Facing a Monday (March 12th) deadline, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s (BiH) 13 parliamentary parties have once again failed to reach a compromise that would allow for constitutional and electoral changes enabling ethnic minorities to run for the country’s top posts.
Political leaders met on Friday in another attempt to bridge the gap between stances on constitutional changes, concluding the session by announcing that no progress had been made. Constitutional reform remains a major obstacle to BiH’s democratic progress. All efforts to reform the constitution, dating back to 2000, have failed.
For more than two years, the ruling parties have struggled to implement the 2009 European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling that the country’s constitution, delineated by the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, contains discriminatory and unlawful provisions that must be amended.
The Dayton Agreement established a tri-partite presidency rotating among a Bosnian Croat, a Bosniak and a Bosnian Serb. The constitution and electoral law state that only members of the three constituent ethnic groups are eligible to stand for election to the tripartite presidency and parliament.
In 2006, Bosnian Jewish official Jakob Finci and Roma representative Dervo Sejdic sued BiH at the ECHR for discrimination. Falling outside of the three main ethnic groups, Jews and Roma — along with an estimated 14 other minority groups — are not eligible candidates for the presidency or parliament.
Sejdic, a Bosnian Roma Union activist, told SETimes that he has never intended to run for any state office but had hoped to fix these injustices and clear the path for minorities in the future.
“The Bosnian Constitution, written hastily in order to stop the war, must be changed in order to prevent further discrimination. And it will be changed at some point, but the greater challenge will be changing the mentality of the people,” Sejdic said.
He suggested a revision that would elect one member of the presidency from Republika Srpska (RS) and two from the Federation entity, FBiH, allowing all citizens to be potential candidates.
But it is not the minority ethnic groups that have everyone concerned; rather it is how constitutional and electoral changes would affect the voting process for the three main ethnic groups.
One particular issue has stalled any progress, according to Sefik Dzaferovic, president of the parliamentary commission tasked with drafting the constitutional amendments.
“We agreed on electing three members of minority ethnic groups to the parliament,” Dzaferovic told SETimes. “However, we remain divided over whether members of the presidency should be directly elected by one of the two political entities, or indirectly elected by [the state] parliament.”
Fadila Memisevic, president of the Bosnian branch of the German-based Society for Threatened Peoples, said the ongoing debate has little to do with minority groups.”The point is that all ethnic groups are being discriminated against in Bosnia and Herzegovina, not only minorities. The constitution discriminates against Bosnian Serbs in the Federation entity and against Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats in Republika Srpska,” Memisevic told SETimes.
Under the present constitution, Serbs living in FBiH cannot run for the tripartite presidency; nor can Bosniaks or Croats living in RS. The constitutional amendments could change that, and officials in RS are concerned that the reforms would allow moderate Bosnian Serb voices in FBiH to hijack the presidency.
This is what happened to Croat ethno-nationalists in 2006. Bosnian Croat Zeljko Komsic, of the moderate, multi-ethnic Social Democratic Party (SDP), was elected as the Croat member of the presidency by a landslide. Croat nationalists refused to recognise Komsic’s victory, saying he had won thanks to votes from outside the ethnic group and as such, was not a true representative of the Croat “cause.”
The parliamentary commission was scheduled to complete its work by March 12th and submit the amendment proposals. Now that it will miss another deadline, Dzaferovic is hoping the commission’s mandate will be extended, as it is imperative that the constitution be amended by 2014, when the next general elections are to be held.
This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.