Hysteria, Bosnia and OHR - On the formation of governments after elections

25 April 2023
Christian Schmidt
Christian Schmidt

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The difficulty of forming a Federation government is not an emergency. This crisis has nothing whatsoever to do with “peace implementation”. Thus, nothing in this situation justifies foreign intervention. And yet, for some of the international representatives in Bosnia, this crisis seems to call for another autocratic intervention.

In Bosnia today, one foreigner, the High Representative, can get up any morning and claim the right to impose any law, including changes to constitutions, without any checks, simply by declaring that this is needed in the interest of “peace implementation.” What these interests are is entirely up to him to define. This puts the High Representative, currently the former German minister of agriculture Christian Schmidt, above all elected assemblies and parties in the country.

One result of this bizarre reality is a political system where foreign ambassadors as well as Bosnian leaders exert constant pressure on OHR, in public and behind closed doors, to impose what they consider is good for them.

Thus, on 20 April 2023, US ambassador Michael Murphy suggested in an interview that he took a particular interest in the composition of the coalition at the Federation level:

“There were recently elections in this country. It is no secret that some political leaders and some political parties did not fare as well as they hoped. We also know that some political parties are not preferred partners by other parties in this country.

My suggestion would be that those leaders and political parties look at the mirror and ask themselves why did citizens vote as they have and why other parties do not want them as partners? They should focus on building their own credibility and their own future instead of attacking others.”

One might ask why a US ambassador is getting involved in the formation of a particular coalition for one of thirteen governments in the country. One might also wonder about news and rumours in political circles in Sarajevo, that behind closed doors the US ambassador appears to be pushing for a quick resolution of this coalition-building-crisis through an OHR imposition by taking away the right of the SDA Federation vice president to be involved in the decision.

This is a throw-back to the political reality in Bosnia two decades ago, when foreigners, some in the OHR, some in embassies, regularly intervened in the formation of Bosnian governments in the name of “preserving the peace.” What is remarkable is that OHR continues to assert its right to do so in a country that long ago joined the Council of Europe and is a candidate for EU accession. A country that has regularly held free and fair elections and has two decades of experience in forming government coalitions.

As was the case in the past, some politicians in Bosnia have called for the High Representative to intervene for reasons of convenience. Nermin Niksic, leader of the SDP, has repeatedly called for an “urgent reaction of the High Representative.” The rationale is obvious: it would help his party, and would allow him to become prime minister. Niksic is unhappy that the elected SDA Federation vice-president wants “SDA to be part of the government”, using a constitutional mechanism “to prevent a parliamentary majority from forming a [different] government.” Niksic stressed that unless OHR imposes a solution his party’s preferred parliamentary majority in the Federation might not come about.

This is a legitimate political position. But so is the insistence of SDA to be included in the Federation government. SDA is part of a coalition government in Una-Sana Canton and in Tuzla Canton. No government can be formed in Central Bosnia canton without the SDA either.

On 16 January 2023, Dragan Covic, HDZ BiH leader, said that “there were enough imposed solutions and decisions. We have enough space to establish executive and legislative power at the level of the Federation based on the election results.” On 14 April 2023, Covic noted that he opposed in particular any intervention that would enable the appointment of Federation governments with only two votes among President and vice-presidents also in the future. However, he would welcome an OHR intervention that would be applicable for overcoming Lendo’s objections in this one case in this one year. At the same time, however, other partners of the SDP, such as the Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina (SzBiH) and the People’s European Alliance (NES), have publicly threatened to leave the agreed coalition if High Representative Schmidt, as suggested by Covic, would intervene on a one-time basis with an ad hoc solution. Without them, HDZ BiH and SDP would not have the majority needed to confirm a Federation government in the lower house, either.

Against this background, on 7 April 2023 High Representative Christian Schmidt made a remarkable statement, considering that the war in Bosnia ended 28 years ago. Schmidt warned Bosnia’s elected leaders and parliamentarians that he was about to pounce into action again:

“I expect politicians to come to a resolution of this blockade and proceed with forming a government backed by Parliamentary majorities as soon as possible. This is their obligation to the voters.

If they abdicate this responsibility, I am committed to ensuring that the will of the voters is respected and that citizens benefit from a government that works on their behalf, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, or even their political party.

To whom it may concern: be clear – this is the final call to reason!

I expect them to start working soon and with success. There will be no further final calls.”

In fact, it is plainly obvious what OHR should do: nothing at all, except to announce that it will not get involved.