On the eve of the New Year and nearly 15 months after the October 2010 general elections, Bosnia and Herzegovina will finally get a new central government, but there is nothing new about it.
Six political parties passed the bar in the October 2010 general elections. Leaders of those six political parties held their first meeting on the formation of a new state government almost one year after elections.
Since then, several meetings took place – none of them successful, all of them producing further divisions. Then, on Wednesday, 28 December 2011, the six leaders took four hours to reach a mutual agreement during an informal meeting in Sarajevo.
It could now take up to three months to finalize the new government, to meet the necessary procedural requirements of naming candidates for posts, conducting eligibility checks and winning final confirmation from the state parliament.
It is now all about jockeying for “ethnic” position among the six political parties – comprised of five nationalists and one moderate.
The main issue of contention for the past 15 months has been the naming of the next prime minister – a post which will handed to a Bosnian Croat. But there are plenty of other points of contention for the top posts in influential and lucrative ministries and agencies.
In Ethnicity We Trust
According to the deal reached on 28 December, the government will be made up of 10 ministers, four representing Bosniaks, three representing Bosnian Serbs and three representing Bosnian Croats. There is no fourth group that would represent moderate forces who perceive themselves as falling outside of the “ethnic contract”.
A key problem has been that Bosnian Croat and Bosnian Serb nationalists have insisted that positions in the state government reserved for their respective ethnic groups be given to their respective nationalist party representatives – not to moderate, multi-ethnic forces, such as the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
The SDP won most of the Bosniak and some Bosnian Croat votes, allowing them to fill positions reserved for Croats in the government with their own supporters.
This fact would destroy the basic concept of Bosnia’s entrenched ethnic divisions and would see Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat nationalist parties out-voted in the government. The deal reached on 28 December seeks to maintain the ethnic status quo and will ensure that all posts reserved for Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats will go to nationalist parties, while the SDP will be given only two posts reserved for Bosniaks.
The six political party leaders also agreed to pass the 2011 budget for state institutions, which has in the meantime been funded through temporary arrangements, allowing them to approve interim financing for the first quarter of 2012.
In the end, this was the only reason the six leaders were willing to come to some agreement over the formation of a new government. Had they not, the lack of a budget would have brought state institutions to a grinding halt in 2012.
The Political Black Hole
Though the deal is a welcome manifestation and indeed the first positive news to emerge from the country since October 2010 elections, the fact remains that 15 months have been lost and no one will be held accountable.
If new elections were to be held today, the electorate would vote the same way it did in October 2010; as such, there is no fear among political parties of being punished for negligence in the polls. Nor will they be punished for allowing a political deadlock that has further impeded Bosnia’s EU and NATO integration.
What is left of the ruling parties’ mandate (with 15 months already lost) will be characterized by the traditional political obstruction and nationalist rhetoric which the majority of the electorate has grown to accept as par for the course.
Republika Srpska officials will stay the course of attempting to diminish the power of state institutions, and hints of secession will continue to circulate. Bosnian Croats will continue to work towards the creation of a third entity in the country with a Bosnian Croat majority under the perception that their ethnic identity is under threat. Bosniaks will continue fight both without any compromise.
There is no room for real progress in this atmosphere. Furthermore, all of January will be a wash, with government work on hold as Republika Srpska gears up for religious holidays.
Initially, Bosnia planned to apply for EU candidate status in January, but is now expected to do so only after the new government is inaugurated (perhaps three months from now). But even this is not a clear priority.
In the meantime, Bosnia-Herzegovina has lost millions in euros in financing and foreign investment and the country’s political and economic image has taken a serious beating.
In late November, Standard & Poor’s rating agency lowered Bosnia’s long-term foreign-currency sovereign-credit rating to B from B+, citing political disputes that prevented the formation of a government.
The European Commission also moved to block its €100 million budget support loan to Bosnia until it formed a government.
The agreement on the formation of a central government and the general fiscal framework for 2012-2014 were key conditions for Bosnia to remove the suspension on an IMF stand-by loan. The country’s new leaders will now have to work very hard to see the release of these funds. The only saving grave will be if the international community decides that it is enough that Bosnia now is forming a new central government – regardless of its objectionable make-up.
There are also a number of other issues that must be addressed if the country hopes to move forward at all towards European integration. Among those issues are the holding of a country-wide census (a highly disputed engagement) and the process of state aid distribution.
These issues were also vaguely addressed on 28 December, with the six leaders agreeing to prioritize these reforms. However, results are not likely to be forthcoming as both issues are key underpinnings of the entrenched ethnic divisions that define politics here.
While there is reason to celebrate that the country will now have a budget, there is little other cause to break out the champagne. The “New Deal” effectively stifles any moderate voices despite the fact that moderates fared very well in the general elections. There is no voice for multi-ethnicity or non-ethnicity.
The system has been carved in stone for the immediate and medium-term future and it recognizes only three ethnic groups and nothing in between. Only economics can trump ethnicity and the country’s nationalist parties seek first and foremost to ensure that this cannot happen. The voters continue to allow them to do this.
by Anes Alic for ISA Intel. Copyright 2011 ISA Intel. All rights reserved