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

Bosnian Protest Vote

Bosnia's local election results amount to a rejection of corrupt undemocratic government.
By Zeljko Cvijanovic

Taken at face value, the Bosnian local election results indicate Bosniaks, the largest ethnic group in the country, have lost faith with nationalism, while their Serb and Croat neighbours have remained loyal to the political creed.


But on closer inspection, a different conclusion can be drawn from the results - the Bosnian vote had less to do with nationalism than a rejection of the republic's unsuccessful and corrupt authorities.


The moderate Social Democratic Party, SDP, of Zlatko Lagumdzija won substantially more votes than Alija Izetbegovic's Bosniak nationalist, Party of Democratic Action, SDA.


Lagumdzija'a party triumphed in most of the Federation's principal towns - Sarajevo, Zenica and Tuzla. The SDA was punished for their incompetence in dealing with rising corruption, economic and social problems. "People voting against the SDA, rather than for the SDP," said political analyst Rasim Ljajic.


Lagumdzija believes these elections mark the "swan song for nationalistic parties" and that the October general elections could open the door to reformist parties among Serbs and Croats now that Bosniak voters have made the first move.


In the Croatian and Serbian constituencies, the traditional nationalist parties - the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, and the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS - retained the support of a majority of voters.


Nevertheless reformist parties did register a noticeable increase in support, significantly reducing the nationalists' share of the vote.


Although some votes have yet to be counted, the SDA, the HDZ and the SDS looked to have respectively attracted 300,000, 150,000, 34,000 fewer votes than the last local elections in 1997.


Bosnian Serbs voted against their leaders for the same reason Bosniaks turned against theirs - corruption and the abuse of democratic institutions.


For the last two years the international community has propped up the administration of Milorad Dodik at any expense. After the September 1998 parliamentary elections, Dodik lost his safe parliamentary majority and the ability to form a government. He survived as premier solely because of the international community, which saw him as the only moderate Bosnian Serb.


The crucial vote to elect Dodik to the premiership, for example, was delayed while SFOR helicopters hunted down one stray member of parliament to fly him back to the chamber.


Post 1998, the international community feared the parliament would once again fall under the thrall of the war-time nationalist leaders and decided to fight undemocratic forces with undemocratic methods. Although perceived as a viable risk in the short-term, this strategy has been devastating.


The Republika Srpska parliament has been systematically prevented from establishing a majority against Dodik. For a year now the entity has been without a president, following the international community's sacking of Nikola Poplasen, leader of the Serbian Radical Party, for obstructing the peace process.


Of all government institutions, only Dodik's government continues to function. And even this lacks legitimacy, given it lost its mandate in the 1998 elections.


To voters in Republika Srpska, Dodik is the sole bearer of power. He has lost the trust of those voters, who now connect the authorities with corruption and economic disaster.


One of Dodik's closest associates was linked with a cigarette smuggling scandal. Media reports last summer exposed another scandal at the Brod refinery. The company's directors, appointed by Dodik, refused to pay taxes amounting to at least $26 million over 4 months. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate is a staggering 56 per cent.


Nevertheless, Dodik's party, the Independent Social Democrats, SNSD, increased their vote from 56,000 in 1998 to 93,000. Most of these new votes came from reformist supporters of the former ruling Sloga coalition, which experienced a dramatic collapse in support.


Some Sloga votes also went to the SDS, which has been keen to demonstrate it is no longer a hard-line nationalist party.


But most disillusioned Sloga voters opted for the Party of Democratic Progress, PDP, led by Mladen Ivanic, an economics professor from Banja Luka and a moderate. Although founded only four months ago, the PDP won 54,000 votes.


The success of the PDP and the redistribution of Sloga votes reflects Bosniak voting trends. Neither declared themselves strongly against nationalists, but against incompetent government. The results do not mean there are no forces of reform in Republika Srpska.


The future of reform in Republika Srpska depends on the international community and whether it is prepared to continue supporting Dodik, in flagrant defiance of Serb voters, who do not see him as a reforming force.


Zeljko Cvijanovic is an independent journalist from Republika Srpska.


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