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

Comment: SDA Heading for 'Earthquake'

Izetbegovic's death likely to trigger dangerous tremors within his party.
By Senad Avdic

The death of Alija Izetbegovic is likely to provoke a fierce battle for the leadership of the former president's party, which could end up splintering into a number of new political groupings.

Even after he retired from the political scene several years ago, Izetbegovic continued to pull the strings of the Bosniak Party of Democratic Action, SDA, and was its honorary leader right up until his death last week.

Indeed, some twenty days ago, the SDA refused to accept the draft law on defence which the Office of the High Representative submitted to the state parliament for adoption.

High Representative Paddy Ashdown rushed to hospital to ask the ailing former president - who was said to be in a critical state at the time - to reason with his party over the bill. The tactic worked.

There is no doubt that with Izetbegovic gone, international officials will find it incomparably harder to exert any influence on the main Bosniak party.

And without the late Bosnian leader, the often fractious SDA may face internal turmoil, as disagreements and factional fighting in the past were regularly resolved by Izetbegovic whose influence over Bosniak politics as a whole was huge.

The most recent example of the latter was evident at last year's elections when Izetbegovic, with one public statement, eliminated Haris Silajdzic, the founder of the Party for Bosnia-Herzegovina and former SDA member, from the electoral race for the Bosniak member of the tripartite presidency.

Back in mid-2002, Izetbegovic had made a promise to Siljadzic, his right hand man during the 1992-95 war, that he would not get involved in the electoral fight between him and Sulejman Tihic, the current president of SDA.

But two days before the ballot, Izetbegovic went back on his promise and called on Bosniaks to vote for Tihic, thus crushing Siljadzic's ambitions.

With Izetbegovic gone, a fierce leadership battle between the party's feuding high-profile members is likely to ensue. And whoever triumphs must win overall control of the party otherwise the SDA could go the same way as Croatia's Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, which broke up into several smaller parties after its leader Franjo Tudjman died.

Ivo Sanader took over the leadership of the HDZ and steered a moderate right-wing path while Ivica Pasalic broke away to form the ultra-nationalist Croatian Block and Mate Granic established the Democratic Centre party.

Within the SDA, three clear factions are already emerging, each with its own leader harbouring ambitions of taking over the helm of the party.

The first is the financially powerful conservative right led by Hasan Cengic, who is influential in Bosnia's religious circles. Currently, a deputy in the state parliament, Cengic and Izetbegovic were imprisoned in 1983 for their membership of the Young Muslims movement. Cengic was also one of the founders of the SDA and has held many key positions during and after the war.

The second faction is the liberal wing led by Tihic, SDA vice-president Adnan Terzic and Hasan Muratovic, all of whom have been dominant in the party for the last couple of years thanks to support from Izetbegovic.

A third group coming to the fore rallies around Izetbegovic's ambitious son Bakir Izetbegovic who has expressed serious intentions of following in his father's footsteps.

Currently a representative in the Federation parliament, Izetbegovic junior has a head start over his rivals as he has been politically close to his father for the past ten years and is familiar with various political, security and religious networks he set up.

Also to his advantage is the rivalry between Tihic and Terzic, whose coalition for this reason has shaky foundations. And unlike Cengic and Izetbegovic, they do not have any viable financial support, which could prove decisive in the upcoming leadership battle.

The exact amount of funds available to the various factions is unclear. What is known is that many key players within the SDA had access to international monetary aid, much of which disappeared without trace. Indeed, Izetbegovic senior was in later years criticised by the international community for failing to rein in corrupt members of his party, many of whom allegedly built personal fortunes on the back of foreign financial assistance.

This, however, is unlikely to deter western officials who will be keen to get close to the next Bosniak leader. But, according to one highly placed source within the SDA, they will have to wait for a couple of months before the anticipated "earthquake" of a leadership battle begins.

Senad Avdic is editor of Slobodna Bosna magazine.

More IWPR's Global Voices