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

Politicians Limber Up for Bosnia Poll

Bosniak rivals fire early salvoes in Bosnia's local election campaign.
By Janez Kovac

The campaign for Bosnia's fifth post-war election got underway this week in Bosniak-held territory with a war of words and the resignation of one of the country's best-known politicians.


The poll, scheduled to take place in April, is to choose municipal governments throughout Bosnia. It is the second local election since the country's 1992-95 war came to an end.


At its first campaign rally, the ruling Bosniak (Muslim) nationalist Party of Democratic Action (SDA) portrayed itself as the party which saved Bosnia and claimed responsibility for all post-war improvements.


"We defended Bosnia, suppressed the aggression, ensured peace in Bosnia and created the Bosnian Army. Today, we are militarily more organised then ever before," party president Alija Izetbegovic boasted at a rally in Sarajevo.


"We are the ones who started the era of freedom in this region. We defeated totalitarianism and introduced democracy," continued Izetbegovic who is the Bosniak member of the Bosnian tripartite presidency.


But unlike previous election years, Izetbegovic and the SDA have failed to present a political or economic programme for the coming period. This shortage of ideas appears to confirm widespread suspicions that the SDA - scarred by corruption scandals, hypocrisy and internal feuding - is in decline.


In the first half of 1999, opinion polls by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe showed the SDA enjoyed a 26-41 per cent lead over the former communist Social Democratic Party (SDP). A poll in December 1999, however, put the parties at level pegging on 32 per cent of the vote.


Instead of offering a vision of a better future, Izetbegovic appears to be planning a negative campaign, attacking the SDP.


"Without the SDA, there would be no SDP," Izetbegovic said, "Today they criticise us for any little thing. . . . They keep on looking for holes in the cheese." He admitted that some SDA leaders might have made mistakes in the past, but claimed these were exceptions.


SDP president Zlatko Lagumdzija responded in kind. "The SDA is losing contact with reality and resembles the HDZ in Croatia only few months back," a reference to the landslide defeat of the former Croatian ruling party in January's election.


Lagumdzija drew attention to the many failings of SDA rule, the desperate political and economic situation, corruption and crime. He also attacked Izetbegovic's anti-communist rhetoric, pointing out that most SDA members are former members of the Yugoslav Communist Party.


However, Lagumdzija was unable to respond to Izetbegovic's charge that the SDP was only able to mount a credible electoral challenge in Bosniak-dominated parts of Bosnia, despite presenting itself as a multi-ethnic party.


Although the SDP has begun to build a party network in areas of northern and north-western Bosnia under Serb or Croat control, the party has virtually no presence in hard-line Serb and Croat-held regions in the east and south.


International organisations and western diplomats who look to Lagumdzija as a politician who might one day lead Bosnia beyond ethnic divisions agree that he is yet to win much support among Serbs and Croats.


Meanwhile, Haris Silajdzic, the Bosniak co-prime minister of Bosnia's joint government and leader of the Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina, may have stolen a march on his rivals by resigning from the government.


Ever since Bosnia left the Yugoslav federation, Silajdzic has been one of the most influential and controversial Bosniak leaders. A founder of the SDA, Silajdzic was, at the time, viewed as the natural successor to Izetbegovic. However, his tendency to provoke disputes has distanced him from the president.


Silajdzic's popularity has been on the increase among Bosniak voters following the SDA's withdrawal from the coalition government in December and his call in January for a revision of the Dayton Peace Accord.


After leaving government, he said he would focus on building his party structure and would not participate in general elections unless the electoral system was improved.


The OSCE December opinion polls show Silajdzic ahead of both Izetbegovic and Lagumdzija. Moreover, since Silajdzic's concerns appear to strike a chord with ordinary Bosniak voters, many analysts believe that his aggressive and uncompromising stance will increase his popularity still further.


Janez Kovac is a regular IWPR contributor from Sarajevo.


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