As the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) gear up for local elections in October, the divided city of Mostar will be left out of the polls as authorities there have failed to heed a Constitutional Court order to reform the electoral law.
BiH’s Central Electoral Commission is delaying the poll there until the local branches of the Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA) and the Croat Democratic Union (HDZ) can address a question of disproportionate representation.
In June last year, the BiH Constitutional Court ruled that the election of three delegates from each of the six city areas for the City Council was unconstitutional, and ordered electoral changes within six months, which the authorities disobeyed.
The court found the City Council election unconstitutional because the numbers of deputies from six city districts were not proportionate to the number of voters in those districts. The current statute stipulates that an area of the city with a population of almost 30,000 residents can elect the same number of delegates to the City Council as an area with only 7,000 residents.
Bosniak officials continue to obstruct the court’s decision, fearing they will be outvoted by Croats who outnumber Bosniak voters by 12,000.
Both parties involved, HDZ and SDA agree that they have reached a deadlock and that this problem has to be solved by the international community, which in fact created the statute.
After years of similar political deadlock, the Statute was imposed in January 2004 by decree of then-High Representative, Paddy Ashdown. That decree abolished the six municipalities and replaced them with six electoral units.
The end result was a single administration that the international community said would both unify the city and ensure that no single ethnic group would dominate. While ethnic pluralism was achieved, unification of the city was not and ethnic coexistence has failed, at least on an administrative level.
With compromise clearly out of question and no party willing to back down and risk losing ethno-nationalist voters, international intervention is the only viable option. Regardless, one or both parties will find fault with any decision enforced by the international community over the issue.
According to a high-ranking international community source who spoke to ISA Intel on condition of anonymity, the most likely scenario for now is that Mostar will be left without any local government this fall as the mandates for city councilors and the mayor will expire in early November.
“Since the local authorities have demonstrated that they are unable to deal with the issue, the OHR is left with no choice but to become involved. To be sure, the OHR has always been willing to be involved, but the usual suspects in the international community have sought to block involvement to promote local ownership,” the source said.
The international community appears to be relying on Bosnian institutions to punish the parties involved in the Mostar crisis. The BiH Parliamentary Assembly could in theory face sanctions for failing to implement the BiH Constitutional Court’s ruling; but realistically,no one is prepared for such a risky political move.
Ideally, those parties would be the citizens themselves; however, as there will not be any local elections, that option is ruled out.
The most viable option, and one that would ensure results, would be financial penalties for HDZ and SDA officials. In the past this has actually worked.
For instance, in 2003 High Representative Ashdown fined HDZ and SDA 28,000 euros and cut ministers’ salaries by more than 50 percent. This was punishment for failing to form a local government eight months after general elections. The local government was formed on the next working day.
Beyond the politics, the election postponement will also mean that Mostar will face a budgetary crisis. The outgoing councilors, however, will not have the authority to pass the budget for fiscal year 2013 — close to 30m euro — depriving the city’s institutions with the funds necessary to operate.
The moderate Social Democratic Party (SDP) has a different perspective on the Mostar debacle. It believes that while the Constitutional Court ruling must be implemented, it is against a new statute that would essentially see a return of ethnically clean municipalities for the sake of proportionate representation.
SDP announced it will propose a different version of the statute, which would keep the existing electoral units but would enable one member of each ethnic group to be elected to the City Council.
A city of some 80,000 people, Mostar has two electricity companies, two telephone networks, two postal services, two gas utility services and two universities. All attempts to unify the city’s double administration have failed miserably.
Croat and Bosniak pupils attend separate classes and learn from different textbooks.
The long-lasting political crisis and institutional stalemate is also reflected at times among the citizens, and though it has been 17 years since the end of the war, many Bosniaks and Croats refrain from crossing the invisible ethnic lines that divide the city. The city is also the scene of ethnic violence mostly among youth and primarily during tense sporting events.
Most recently, several people were injured and a dozen detained in violent clashes that erupted in after Spain defeated Croatia at the Euro 2012. It is significant that Croat football fans always cheers for Croatia, while Bosniaks generally support their opponents.
But many blame the politicians for what they view as the forced and unnatural division of the city. According to the recent polls, some 75 percent of Mostarians would like to see their city unified.
Many of them believe that Mostar is being held hostage by two political parties that have managed to rule the city continuously for two decades and to benefit from the largesse of a double administration.
by Anes Alic for ISA Intel. Copyright 2012 ISA Intel. All rights reserved