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The Contenders

A look at the key players among the scores of political parties and thousands of candidates contesting the October 5 general elections.
By Senad Slatina

Bosnia-Hercegovina, BiH, is split into two entities, the Federation, which is predominantly Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) and Croat, and the largely Serb Republika Srpska, RS. Voters will be choosing representatives at both state and entity level.


One of the most important players is the Social Democratic Party, SDP. The party has performed a major role in the Alliance for Change, a heterogeneous coalition of 11 non-nationalist parties that has ruled in the Federation over the last election two years ago.


The SDP, which has former communist roots, is the only truly multi-ethnic party of the left centre that advocates a united BiH oriented towards European integration. Although nearly 90 per cent of its members come from the Bosniak community, surveys show that seven per cent of its supporters are Serbs and five per cent are Croats.


Its leader, Zlatko Lagumdzija, a 47-year old with a PhD in information technology, is also the BiH foreign minister. At the forthcoming elections, he heads the SDP list of candidates for the state parliament. Lagumdzija recently clashed with Nijaz Durakovic, a doctor of political science who was a founder of SDP, prompting the latter to join the rival Party for Bosnia and Hercegovina, SBiH. Opinion polls showed his defection had not dented SDP popularity.


According to the latest survey, SDP will win approximately 15, 20 and five per cent of seats in the parliaments of the BiH state, the Federation and RS respectively. If so, SDP will remain one of the most influential parties in Bosnia. It also enjoys strong but discreet support from the international community.


The Party of Democratic Action, SDA, is the largest Bosniak national party. Founded in May 1990, its long-serving leader Alija Izetbegovic was the main political force in the Bosniak national community from 1990 to 2000, occupying the highest state posts during and after the war. A little over a year ago, Izetbegovic withdrew from active politics and is now just an honorary party leader. His influence remains strong, though.


The SDA presents itself as a modern party of the political centre that has decided, for the first time, to include non-Bosniaks on its lists of candidates. This year, the SDA will field Srebrenica mayor Desnica Radivojevic for the post of Serb representative on the BiH presidency, a triumvirate representing the country's three national groups.


Most analysts dismiss this as a cosmetic move and regard SDA as a conservative, nationalist party representing only Bosniaks. However, its leader, Sulejman Tihic, did become vice-president of the RS assembly and is now running to become Bosniak representative on the BiH presidency. Another important party figure, Hasan Muratovic, heads the SDA list for the state parliament. According to surveys, SDA will win approximately 15 and 20 per cent of seats in the state and Federation parliaments respectively.


The party for Bosnia-Hercegovina, SBiH, lacks the strength to make much of an impact on its own but could play an important role in coalitions. With SBiH support, the SDA or SDP could count on a majority in the state and Federation assemblies. Surveys show SBiH will win some 10 and 15 per cent of the seats in the state and Federation parliaments. The international community is believed to favour an SBiH role in coalition with SDP and other moderate parties.


The SBiH can almost certainly count on the Bosniak seat in the BiH presidency since all surveys show a convincing lead for SBiH leader Haris Silajdzic in that race. Silajdzic founded SBiH prior to the first post-war elections in 1996, following his break up with Izetbegovic. Still, the party had little success in elections and formed a coalition with the SDA. Two years ago, the SBiH joined the Alliance for Change coalition, this time on the side of the SDP.


Bosnia's BOSS party, led by the aggressive and media conscious Mirnes Ajanovic, shot to popularity in a very short time and must be taken into account as a potential coalition partner at state and Federation level. Analysts believe the popularity of BOSS, which has very little infrastructure or original policies, is based on its leader's flamboyant behaviour in the federal parliament. According to some analysts, the only reason that Ajanovic and BOSS, despite their unorthodox attitudes, enjoy popularity is that they are seen as a refreshing change - not necessarily for the better, however. Surveys show BOSS will win five and seven per cent of seats at state and Federation level.


The Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, is still the most popular party among Bosnian Croats. It was founded in 1990 as a sister party of the strongly nationalistic HDZ in neighbouring Croatia. From 1990 to 2000, it was in power in BiH, together with the Bosniak and Serb national parties - the SDA and the Serb Democratic Party, SDS.


Publicly the party advocated the creation of the Federation and a joint state of Bosnian peoples. But according to media and diplomatic sources, the party plotted to obstruct the implementation of the Dayton Agreement and sought to lay the groundwork for a third, exclusively Croatian entity in BiH and its eventual annexation to Croatia.


The last time this policy openly surfaced was after the last general elections in which the HDZ was defeated. Party leaders tried to establish parallel institutions in the Croatian-dominated part of the territory of the Federation. The international community thwarted the plot and HDZ was forced to withdraw from political life in BiH. The party entered this year's campaign with far more moderate policies and substantially less money, its party coffers having been weakened by the drying up of donations from Hercegovina businessmen.


HDZ aims to retain the power it holds in five Federation cantons. For the first time, it is campaigning in coalition with the ultra-right Croatian Christian Democrats and also with the relatively moderate Croatian People's Union. The HDZ has nominated the party's most powerful figure, Dragon Covic from Mortar, as Croatian member of the BiH presidency. From 1998 to 2000, Covic was deputy prime minister of the Federation. He fell under suspicion of abuse of authority and faced criminal charges. Nevertheless, according to latest surveys, Covic convincingly heads the race to become Croatian member of the presidency. Surveys show the HDZ will win some 10 and 15 per cent of seats in the state and Federation assemblies respectively.


Perhaps the most spectacular campaign of all is being waged by popular businessman Mladen Ivankovic-Lijanovic and his two-year-old Through Work to Prosperity, or NS RZB, party. Ivankovic is a co-owner of the successful Herzegovinian food factory Lijanovici and treats people at his rallies to a free barbecues and live music. Currently a minister without portfolio in the Federation government, Ivankovic represents an anti-nationalist stream of Bosnian Croats. Some Bosniaks and Bosnian Serbs also support his party. It will run in coalition with the Croat Democratic Alliance, HDU, which has practically an identical political manifesto.


The HDU was founded by Miro Grabovac, otherwise known as Titan, a former general and former head of the HDZ caucus in the state parliament. Titan strongly opposed the HDZ policy of isolation and quit the party several months ago along with several colleagues to form the HDU. The party will campaign alongside NS RZB under the name Economic bloc - HDU for Prosperity. Analysts say it could do extremely well in Hercegovina cantons but may gain no more than two per cent of seats in the Federation assembly.


New Croatian Initiative, NHI, is mainly a political party of Croats from mid-Bosnia and Posavina. It was founded in 1998 by former HDZ members who felt Croats in central Bosnia had little influence in the top echelons of the HDZ leadership. Its founder, Kresimir Zubak, was the first post-war Croatian member of the BiH presidency. The party opposes the establishment of a new Croatian entity and seeks the strengthening of state institutions. Mijo Anic, NHI candidate for the BiH presidency, is described as a moderate and level-headed politician. Surveys indicate that NHI will win some two and three per cent of seats in the state and Federation assemblies.


The Pro-European People's Party, Pro ENS, led by former HDZ senior official Jadranko Prlic, campaigns for Euro-Atlantic integration. While surveys show that Prlic and his party still have little support among the Bosnian Croats, they could play an important role in BiH politics.


The Serb Democratic Party, SDS, remains the most important political organisation in RS. The party was established on July 12, 1990 by Radovan Karadzic, subsequently indicted by The Hague on war crimes charges. The SDS candidate for Serb membership of the BiH presidency is the RS president Mirko Sarovic, while the vice-president Dragan Cavic is its candidate for the entity leadership. Surveys show both are almost certain to win the posts they are running for.


Sarovic said the SDS would fight calls for the abolition of the BiH entities, oppose the establishment of a unitary state and resist any revision of the Dayton Agreement. In campaign speeches, Dragan Cavic spoke against any demilitarisation of the country. The party is expected to play a crucial part in forming governments at the state level and in RS. Survey results show that SDS will win approximately 15 and 40 per cent of seats in the state and RS parliaments.


The strongest opposition party in the RS is Milorad Dodik's Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, SNSD, formed six years ago and campaigning for social-economic reform. This party's candidates argue that economic rather than political policies should be the main concern of voters. SNSD believes the RS army should remain independent but with some level of cooperation at state level that would pave the way for Bosnia-Hercegovina's integration into NATO's Partnership for Peace programme. Polls say SNSD will win some 25 per cent of seats in the RS parliament.


The Party of Democratic Progress, PDP, also plays an important role in the RS. Founded in 1999 by RS premier Mladen Ivanic, the party fights for preservation of RS interests, economic reforms and combating corruption and crime. In the past two years, it has skilfully managed to form coalitions with SDS hard-liners.


At times, it was hard to distinguish between the allegedly moderate PDP and the nationalist SDS. In the October elections, the PDP will have candidates for all state posts. Its candidate for RS president is the chairman of the BiH Council of Ministers Dragan Mikerevic. Its candidate for the state presidency is the RS minister of transport and communications Branko Dokic. Ivanic says the PDP's main aim is to maintain RS statehood. The party's slogan calls for RS to "become European and remain Serb". Surveys indicate that PDP will win four and 13 per cent of seats in the state and RS assemblies respectively.


The Socialist Party of RS, SPRS, was established in 1993 and campaigns under the slogan Work, Bread and Justice. Since Slobodan Milosevic was ousted from power and disappeared from the political scene in Yugoslavia (he led the Socialist Party of Serbia in that country), the SPRS has dropped in popularity and importance. Forecasts are that this party, which occupies major posts in the current bodies of power, will win only four per cent of assembly seats in the RS.


The Serb Radical Party, SRS, fights under the banner A Serb State Against Thieves and Traitors. This highly conservative and nationalist party had strong links with the SDS and similar parties in Serbia. The SRS candidate for the BiH presidency, Ognjen Tadic, says the party has carried forward Serb traditions that date back to the nineteenth century. Its objective is to protect the Serb people's interests first. Surveys indicate SRS will win approximately three and seven per cent of seats in the state RS assemblies.


Senad Slatina is a journalist with the Sarajevo weekly Slobodna Bosna.


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