Bosnian Serb Cabinet Reshuffle Likely

Coalition partners under pressure to patch up differences or face government collapse.

Bosnian Serb Cabinet Reshuffle Likely

Coalition partners under pressure to patch up differences or face government collapse.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

Beset by internal squabbling, the Bosnian Serb government looks likely to reshuffle as early as September in a bid to stop the ruling coalition collapsing.

Republika Srpska, RS, president Dragan Cavic, has scheduled a crisis meeting between the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, and the Party of Democratic Progress, PDP, for the end of August. He said he would not be swayed by party interest, although he is deputy leader of the SDS, the stronger of the two coalition partners.

“I will ask the coalition leaders for an explicit answer as to whether the coalition can function, and whether the government can do its job,” Cavic said.

“If I get a negative reply, I will not hesitate to use all my authority and find the best solution for RS, because as president, I must not be guided solely by the party’s self-interest,” he warned.

The fierce debate between SDS and PDP - which is about who is to blame for the deep economic crisis affecting RS - has brought the coalition close to breaking point, and the work of government to a virtual standstill.

The SDS is calling for a reshuffle, which would see the dismissal of Prime Minister Dragan Mikerevic and Finance Minister Branko Krsmanovic, both PDP members. It blames them for the slow privatisation process and the lack of investment in the Serb part of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The PDP says the crisis has happened because the international community has been slow to assist with economic reforms. “For years, the international community in Bosnia-Herzegovina focused on political issues rather than on economic reforms,” PDP leader Mladen Ivanic told a press conference on August 11. “Therefore, although we do have a crisis here and the people are dissatisfied, the government is not responsible for this, and dismissing it won’t change things for the better.”

The party has even threatened to leave the ruling coalition if Mikerevic is dismissed – a move which could result in the collapse of the current government, and early elections being called as soon as next spring.

But local analysts and experts believe that the PDP would be unlikely to act on this threat, and that its interests would in any case be better served if it remained in the ruling coalition. This makes a reshuffle the more likely option.

The economic crisis started in May this year when, during a revision of the annual budget, the government found it would not have enough money to pay for wage and benefit increases demanded by health and education sector workers and old-age pensioners.

The spending squeeze sparked yet another round of public protests, which crippled the fragile public services. Earlier this month, several thousand healthcare employees held a rally in the RS capital Banja Luka calling for the government to be dismissed.

Some politicians and analysts want to see this happen, and a completely new cabinet elected. Dusko Vukotic, a parliamentary deputy for the Democratic Party, says all six parties in opposition want to see the government go.

“The easiest way to overcome the current political crisis is to dismiss the prime minister and elect a new government,” said Milos Solaja, a political analyst who runs the International Press Centre in Banja Luka. “The grave economic crisis and the obvious inability to break the impasse proves that the government is incapable of doing its job.”

Even if the PDP did walk out of the coalition, it is not clear that the government would fall, because the SDS might try to find another coalition partner. One strong contender is the Party of Independent Social Democrats, SNSD, the third largest party after the SDS and PDP.

But although Cavic has reportedly been in talks with SNSD chief Milorad Dodik, analysts say it is unlikely that the two parties will end up in coalition. Dodik has tried to secure the chair of prime minister for himself as a precondition for creating a coalition but Cavic is desperate to keep him out of that position, says Solaja.

This means there is still a small chance that if the PDP storms out, the SDS will not be able to find an alternative partner, and Cavic will have no alternative but to call elections.

Most opposition parties would be happy if this happened. Other observers think it would be a disaster. The SDS is obviously against it and so is the PDP, whose leader Ivanic said “elections are costly and pointless in a situation where, for the first time since the war ended, the government in Bosnia-Herzegovina has been elected for a four-year term”.

Solaja thinks it unlikely that an election will be called. In any case, he believes that the basic problem in RS is not so much the ineffectiveness of one particular government, but that there is no other viable option.

“The government isn’t offering anything, and the opposition is not saying what it would do to get us out of this general crisis. SDS, PDP and SNSD have all had their turns in power over the past four years, and we remain stuck in the same place,” he said.

Gordana Katana is a correspondent for Voice of America in Banja Luka.

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