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

Poll Triggers Political Turmoil

Nationalist parties in Bosnia are locked in power struggles triggered by their unconvincing performance in recent elections.
By Janez Kovac

Bosnia's nationalist parties are facing major upheavals and unpalatable political compromises in the wake of last month's local elections


In the Bosnian Federation, the ruling Muslim Party of Democratic Action, SDA, and the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, have both been riven by power struggles. In the former hardliners are emerging as a force while in the latter moderates are gaining ground.


In Republika Srpska, RS, the victorious Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, formerly led by leading war crimes suspect, Radovan Karadzic, may have to govern in coalition with more moderate parties in many municipalities.


Although Muslim, Croat and Serb parties triumphed in more than two-thirds of Bosnia's municipalities, their share of the vote dropped significantly. The party of former RS president Biljana Plavsic did so badly that she and six other senior members have resigned.


Moderate parties, meanwhile, made strong gains, the most impressive performance coming from the Social Democrats who won in three of the largest Bosnian cities and did well in Croat and Serb dominated areas.


Political ructions in the SDA came to a head last Friday when the President of the Federation, Ejup Ganic, and three canton governors resigned their party posts after losing no confidence votes.


The resignations suggest that hardliners are gaining the upper hand in the party, which over the last ten years has ploughed a relatively moderate nationalist furrow.


Hassan Cengic, the SDA strongman from central Bosnia, is believed to be one of the leaders of the hardline wing. He recently dared to suggest that SDA president, Alija Izetbegovic, may bare some responsibility for the party's poor showing in the poll. This sort of challenge would have been unthinkable a few months ago.


The growing influence of the hardliners has shaken the moderate wing of the party. One of the SDA's most popular leaders, the mayor of Mostar, Safet Orucevic, resigned from all his party posts and declared that he would co-operate with moderate Bosnian politicians in future.


Already shell-shocked by its sister party's electoral defeat in Croatia earlier this year, the HDZ was so alarmed by its poor showing in the Bosnian poll that its president, Ante Jelavic, dismissed more than 30 corrupt local HDZ boards while ballots were still being counted.


The move was part of his declared intention to make the party more centrist. It's hard to say whether he will succeed as hardliners have refused to accept the dismissals. Jelavic, however, is showing no signs of backing down.


Last Friday, former vice-president of the joint Bosnian government, Neven Tomic, one of the best technocrats in the moderate wing of the HDZ, was nominated as the party's only candidate for the post of co-mayor in Mostar.


In RS, the SDS poll victory at first sight suggested a return to extreme Serbian nationalism. But party radicals will probably be kept in check by having to work closely with moderate Serb parties in many areas of the statelet.


There are also suggestions that the SDS is prepared to play a more progressive role in Bosnian politics. The party has sought to overhaul its extremist image over the last couple of years.


Indeed, western diplomats, who recently met SDS leaders to warn them against obstructing the peace process, say they were genuinely surprised by the party's mature and constructive attitude.


What's clear is that while the local elections delivered victories for the nationalists, moderate politicians did sufficiently well to have a greater influence in the running of the country.


Janez Kovac is a regular IWPR contributor


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