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Dodik Toys with Muslim Vote

Republika Srpska Prime Minister, Milorad Dodik, considers appointing Muslim ministers to break political deadlock.
By Janez Kovac

The political crisis in Republika Srpska sank to new depths last week when its assembly failed to agree on an agenda for a parliamentary session after seven hours of heated, futile debate.


The minority care-taker government sought to play down the seriousness of the incident, saying the session shouldn't have been called at all so close to local elections on April 8.


But several Bosnian Serb sources say they're very concerned the deteriorating political situation in Republika Srpska may prompt voters to turn their backs on the pro-western coalition of Prime Minister Milorad Dodik.


The opposition has been quick to make political capital out of the latest crisis. President of the hard-line Serbian Democratic Party, Dragan Kalinic, described it as "a direct assault on the only remaining legitimate institution in Republika Srpska."


Kalinic, one of the closest allies of war-time Bosnian Serb leader and main war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic said the episode had opened the way for the "final dissolution" of the assembly.


"This was the biggest attack against the parliament since its establishment," said Vice-President of the Republika Srpska Socialist Party, SPRS, Dragutin Ilic. Ilic accused Dodik of deliberately obstructing parliamentary business.


Yet it was the withdrawal of the SPRS from the ruling Sloga coalition last month that in fact precipitated the current turmoil.


The move, allegedly orchestrated by the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, widened the growing rift between Bosnian Serb politicians and delivered a blow to the international community's efforts to promote stability in the region.


It's feared the political chaos could facilitate the re-emergence of the hard-line Serbian Democratic Party, formerly led by Karadzic, in general elections scheduled for later this year.


The SPRS exit, which left Dodik with a minority government dependent for its survival on the support of international organisations in Bosnia, resulted from ideological divisions within the party and the growing confidence of its hard-liners. Its nationalist wing, led by Ilic, appears to be strongly influenced by Milosevic.


After the party's departure from Sloga, several senior members were dismissed or stepped down. The move effectively divided the SPRS and delivered a critical blow to the fragile balance of power in the Republika Srpska assembly.


The SPRS and two other Sloga members had 28 parliamentary seats and was reliant on the support of Bosnian Muslim and Croat parties for a decision-making majority in the 83-seat assembly.


But Dodik's stubbornness and occasional nationalist rhetoric has disappointed and angered his Muslim and Croat partners. As a result, over the last few months they have given their votes to Dodik and the Sloga coalition only when it served their interests.


After SPRS left the Sloga coalition, Dodik publicly stated that he was prepared to appoint three Muslim officials to his government.


The proposed move, obviously aimed at securing Dodik Muslim votes in the parliament, was significant nonetheless. Were it to materialise, it would be the first time non-Serbs have taken up posts in exclusively Serb institutions since the end of the Bosnian war.


But Dodik has made several similar promises in the past, always managing to backtrack on them at the last moment. And he is likely to do so again. For while only Muslim votes can break the parliamentary deadlock, he knows the appointment of non-Serbs to government positions could cost him many hard-line votes in the forthcoming elections.


Janez Kovac is a regular IWPR contributor from Sarajevo


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