Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Alliance Government Faces Uphill Struggle

Bosnia's new Alliance for Change government faces some severe challenges, not least from its own coalition members.
By Ivo Komsic

Bosnia's opposition parties, led by the multi-ethnic Social Democratic Party, SDP, have made more progress in the past few weeks than in the last ten years.


Ten opposition parties joined together to establish the Alliance for Change on January 13. The coalition subsequently formed a slim but firm majority in the Bosnian state parliament and the Muslim-Croat Federation assembly. Its candidates have been appointed to lead both institutions.


And, significantly, Mladen Ivanic, the new prime minister of the Bosnian Serb entity, Republika Srpska, RS, said he and his Party of Democratic Progress, PDP, would back the Alliance at state level.


Despite this promising start, however, the coalition faces many difficulties and challenges.


The Alliance has only a tiny numerical advantage in both the state and Federation parliaments and is made up of a very heterogeneous group of parties, some with conflicting interests.


Such a coalition faces a tough time maintaining any unity of purpose or forming and holding together a constructive government. Sharing out ministerial offices and government posts on the entity and state level between so many competing parties is likely to be an extremely slow process.


If the government were to fully reflect the heterogeneity of the Alliance, the ministers would pay more attention to party interests than the unity or efficiency of the government - a common failing of previous nationalist administrations.


The nationalist parties are the biggest threat to the Alliance, especially in the Federation.


The creation of an Alliance-led government could prompt the nationalist Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, to try and establish a third, Bosnian Croat, "entity". It could potentially unify HDZ-controlled cantons and set up parallel government institutions.


Indeed, the HDZ threatened to boycott Federation institutions on January 14, the day after the Muslim-Croat parliament appointed an Alliance candidate as parliamentary speaker.


The move towards a separate Croat entity would represent a severe test for an Alliance government. Its internal cohesion, decisiveness and ability to rule would be called into question.


The Bosniak-Muslim nationalist Party for Democratic Action, SDA, together with its allies, will also seek to undermine the Alliance by putting pressure and sowing doubt and division among Bosniak-Muslim members of the coalition. Even if it wins over a few, it could cut the government's slender majority.


At the same time in Republika Srpska, the Serb Democratic Party, SDS, will also attempt to undermine the Alliance, by trying to draw Ivanic away from the coalition.


The SDS already knows the coalition is unhappy about Ivanic including some of them in his RS government - a move that could expose the Alliance to accusations of being indirectly linked to Serb nationalists.


The Alliance must be understood and accepted as a strategic solution for Bosnia-Herzegovina. It needs to prove it can govern and prepare conditions for a decisive victory in the next elections two years hence.


Should the Alliance fail in the 2002 ballot, the nationalist parties would return to the centre stage, leaving the country without any hope.


So how best to ensure that Alliance succeeds in the face of these political pitfalls?


Support from the international community is crucial. It must help the government reverse Bosnia's economic collapse. Direct foreign investment is vital.


Likewise, without Western support, there can be no major progress in securing the return of refugees.


The issue is linked to protecting human rights, security and property - something no Bosnian government can achieve without the assistance of Bosnia's senior international official, the High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch.


And even if there were no political obstacles to the return of displaced people, the task of finding them jobs and providing raw materials for rebuilding houses and infrastructure will be fraught with problems.


Bosnia's economic crisis is so severe, the government faces serious social unrest unless the international community provides aid.


People are at the limit of their endurance, and this is perhaps the Alliance's biggest challenge.


The Bosnian people will expect the government to find solutions. The economy is undeveloped, borders are uncontrolled, crime is rife - there are no means by which the government can generate a social fund to protect those in need.


If experience to date is anything to go by, continued efforts to privatise major state companies will result only in more unemployment.


State-owned enterprises used to employ the vast majority of the working population. The unemployment rate already stands at 35 per cent and any increase simply cannot be absorbed.


Dr Ivo Komsic is a senior SDP leader and professor of philosophy at the University of Sarajevo. During the Bosnian war he was a member of the Bosnian joint presidency and president of the Croatian Peasants Party.