11th Dec 2023

Last-minute legal changes to Bosnian election law stir controversy

  • A country of 3.3 million, Bosnia and Herzegovina has complex power-sharing structure between the three constituent ethnicities, Muslims, Serbs and Croats (Photo: Michal Huniewicz)
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The EU remained lukewarm on the controversial decision by Bosnia and Herzegovina's international envoy, tasked with steering post-war recovery, to change the constitution and election law shortly after polls closed on Sunday (3 October) night.

The election law has been an issue for over a decade, with dozens of rounds of failed negotiations among ethnic groups of the federation.

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A country of 3.3 million, Bosnia and Herzegovina has a tripartite presidency and a complex power-sharing structure between Muslims, Serbs and Croats, the three constituent ethnicities.

This complicated system includes 14 different governments with 136 ministers. The international peace envoy can make laws and remove politicians from office if they threaten the constitutional order.

The new measures by the international envoy changes the election law by raising the number of representatives in the Federation entity's upper house, the House of Peoples and changing the way they are chosen.

The changes also include the deadline for the formation of the government after the election.

The EU said it "took note" of the decision by high representative Christian Schmidt's move.

The US Embassy to Bosnia welcomed Schmidt's move, saying that it would "bolster the stability and functionality of Bosnia and Herzegovina."

"This action was both urgent and necessary," the embassy said. The British ambassador, Julian Reilly, also backed Schmidt's decision.


However, the EU's delegation in Bosnia's statement emphasised that "this was a decision of the high representative alone", adding that the envoy's special powers "should be used solely as a measure of last resort against irreparable unlawful acts".

"[…] We were astonished that on election day, the high representative for Bosnia imposed significant further changes to the constitution," Austrian MEP Andreas Schieder, head of the European Parliament election observation delegation to Bosnia, said on Monday.

He added that it undermines Bosnia's democracy and institutions, and "particularly the will of the citizens who made use of their democratic rights".

Green MEP Thomas Waitz said the decision is a "slap in the face of voters".

"Voters very clearly chose progressive over nationalistic politicians. Yet Schmidt provokes another crisis with an unnecessary move that benefits the losers of the election," he added, accusing Schmidt of giving political favours to Croatia's centre-right ruling party.

"I imposed measures that will improve functionality of institutions of the (Muslim-Croat) federation," the German politician, Christian Schmidt, who hails from the centre-right Christian Social Union (CSU) said.

The changes "will enable all citizens to have their voice heard and to ensure that those who they elect will represent them," he added in a video address.


On Sunday, Bakir Izetbegovic, the leader of the largest Muslim party, lost his seat in the three-member presidency to Denis Becirovic, a reformist Social Democrat.

The Croat representative in the top body, Zeljko Komsic, kept his post. Zeljka Cvijanovic, backed by Bosnian Serb strongman, pro-Russian Milorad Dodik, won a presidential spot as the Serb representative.

The vote was also held for separate administrations of the two entities, including for the president of Republika Srpska, where Dodik and the opposition's Jelena Trivia ran a close race.


Why Bosnia & Herzegovina is not ready for the EU

Due to a total capture of the country's institutions and economy by corrupted ethno-nationalist elites, Bosnia & Herzegovina did not advance on key reform areas such as democratisation and improvement of the rule of law — arguably even backsliding.

A chorus of warnings about Russian meddling in Bosnia

In a thinly veiled warning to Russia, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell pledged to "continue deterring those who would feel emboldened to undertake destabilisation actions" during a trip to Sarajevo.

MEPs seek probe into EU commissioner over Bosnia

Enlargement commissioner Várhelyi "openly colluded [with Dodik] in potentially breaking up Bosnia and Herzegovina", according to dozens of MEPs who wrote to Várhelyi's boss.

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