The state government of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) faces another major political crisis as ruling coalition parties move to evict the main Bosniak party and fire its ministers, breaking up the coalition only months after it was formed and bringing an end to the first short period of political stability since October 2010 general elections.
The political crisis emanates from a dispute over the state budget for fiscal year 2012, which was approved last week by parliament, but remains disputed by the main Bosniak Party for Democratic Action (SDA), a member of the ruling coalition.
On Saturday (June 2nd), the moderate Social Democratic Party (SDP), a member of the six-party ruling coalition, won the support of four other member parties to evict the SDA from the coalition on the state level.
The party also got the green light to sign a co-operation agreement with SDA’s rivals in the opposition, the Alliance for the Better Future of Bosnia (SBBBIH). On the cantonal level, within the Federation entity, the SDP acted against the SDA unilaterally to dismiss ministers in four cantons in which the SDP enjoys majority support.
What this means in the immediate term is that the SDA will now likely to attempt to block all reforms on the Federation entity and state level where the coalition has been restructured without them. As BiH works on important reforms necessary for European integration, this SDA’s expected moves to block reforms as it jockeys to reposition itself will set the country back.
Officially, the SDP has already dismissed SDA ministers in four of the Federation’s entity’s cantons. The SDA is promising retribution and has vowed to fire SDP ministers in three cantons where they have the majority of votes.
With the ruling coalition already disassembled in the Federation entity, it is only a matter of days before the entity government will be reconstituted without the SDA. To that end, the SDP has already begun talks with the Croat Democratic Union (HDZ) to enter in the ruling coalition on the entity level. The HDZ is a currently a member of the ruling coalition on state level, but was pushed to the opposition on the entity level.
Bosnia’s state parliament must still approve the dismissal of ministers. Theoretically, the SDA could block that motion in the Parliament’s House of Representatives.
“We will not accept the dismissal of our officials. Their mandates were given to them by voters and not granted by the SDP or any other party. Regarding the blocking of the work of the institutions of the Federation and State, our MP’s will use their veto right if it is for well-being of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” SDA Vice-President Semsudin Mehmedovic told SETimes.
After a half year of preparation, in late May and at the eleventh hour before the country’s institutions went bankrupt, Bosnian state parliament approved the state budget for fiscal year 2012.
The draft budget was for 700 million euros, out of which 475 million euros is earmarked for state institutions and the remainder for servicing the country’s foreign debt.
The new budget also envisaged a 4.5 percent reduction in salaries for state employees, including parliamentarians, whose incomes had increased 300 percent over the last five years.
SDA officials had voted against the budget, demanding an additional 27 million euros for financing state institutions. From the SDA’s perspective, the balance between funding for state institutions and entity institutions does not reflect the reality that is necessary to empower the state at the expense of the entities.
“For us, the proposed and adopted budget represents more than savings—it is a direct attack on state institutions, as the money allocated is not enough to keep them functioning effectively. If entity budgets can enjoy an increase of some 10 percent, and there is money to purchase airplanes and to spend millions on irrelevant projects, then there must be money for the normal functioning of state institutions,” Mehmedovic told SETimes.
However, SDP officials claim this is disingenuous of the SDA and that the dispute went well beyond the budget.
“Recently, the SDA started moving towards a type of radicalization and was the only obstructive force, rejecting all reforms on all institutional levels. Most likely, SDA officials are attempting, by going too far to the right, to radicalize Bosniak voters,” Zlatko Lagumdzija, SDP’s president and Bosnian Foreign Minister, told a press conference.
It took 15 months for the six ruling parties to form the state government and after only five months it is being reconstructed. The biggest loser will be the country’s citizens, according to Adis Arapovic, head of the Bosnian think-tank Center for Civil Initiatives (CCI).
“Unlike the citizens, the political parties will gain from this crisis as the recent development only represents the early start of the campaign for October local elections. As for the SDA, after limited success in the last elections, they will try to win back the votes from conservative Bosniaks. The same goes for the other five parties who remain in the ruling coalition,” Arapovic told SETimes.
Gradimir Gojer from the opposition Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina told SETimes that even though the SDA was the only party to vote against the 2012 budget, it cannot be blamed for the lack of progress on all fronts.
“The ruling coalition, as it was in the last five months and as it will be after the reconstruction, is not natural and no one can expect any major breakthroughs from them. It is clear that in Bosnia and Herzegovina there is no political platform or ideology. There is only private interest and a struggle for positions,” Gojer said.
Indeed, many speculate that SDP-SBBBiH coalition is unsustainable, particularly because the embryonic SBBBiH, led by media tycoon Fahrudin Radoncic and founded just prior to the 2010 elections, has limited support. The party’s political platform is vague at best and centered primarily on Radoncic as a personality. Radoncic is set to be the new Bosnian Security Minister, which will be his first political function.
Simultaneously, although the SBBBiH supported the budget in parliament, the party has some significant differences with other coalition members aside from the SDA. Radoncic frequently uses his daily newspaper, Dnevni Avaz, to provoke conflict with other parties, and his most frequent target is the SDP and its leader, Lagumdzija.
This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.