Bosniak Muslim MPs Veto Serb Referendum Law

Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) deputies in the parliament of Bosnia’s Serb dominated part Republika Srpska have vetoed a referendum law adopted by the region’s parliament earlier in February, declaring it to be in violation of their community’s “vital national interests”.

The chairman of the Bosniak caucus in the Republika Srpska parliament Edin Ramic announced late on Monday, that the law on referendum was unacceptable as long as it does not specifically define possible plebiscite questions.

“The law must precisely regulate…. which questions cannot be asked in a referendum, including questions related to the territorial integrity, sovereignty and security of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Ramic told journalists.

The controversial law, which was passed by the Bosnian Serb parliament nearly two weeks ago, only regulates technical issues, such as the manner in which a referendum can be called and the voting procedures.

Eight Bosniak deputies among the 83 members of Republika Srpska’s assembly walked out of the parliamentary session during which the referendum law was adopted, voicing fears that the law will be used to prepare the ground for a secession vote in the Serb dominated part of the country.

In the past, Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik has threatened to hold a referendum on Republika Srpska’s secession from Bosnia, but he now insists that he has no intention to break the country apart.

Deputies in the Bosnian Serb parliament who represent any of the country’s three constituent peoples – Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs – can use a constitutional mechanism which enables them to block legislation which they believe violates the vital interests of their ethnic group. When this happens, vetoed laws must be sent to the entity’s constitutional court for review.

However, the referendum law is likely to be approved by the court, even though the international community has also condemned it as provocative and potentially illegal under the terms of the 1995 Dayton agreement which ended Bosnia’s three-and-a-half-year war.

The referendum law issue first emerged last December, when the international community’s High Representative to Bosnia Valentin Inzko extended the mandate of international judges working on war-crimes cases in Bosnia’s state court.

The Bosnian Serb government rejected the decision, arguing that Inzko had overstepped his mandate and had no right to impose anything on Serbs. The government said at the time that the people of Republika Srpska should express their voices on the issue.

This was the culmination of Bosnian Serb’s long-standing opposition to the High Representative’s continued presence in Bosnia.

Under the Dayton peace agreement, Bosnia was divided into two highly autonomous entities – the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska and Croat-Bosniak federation. Each entity has its own government, parliament and presidency, but the two are linked by weak central institutions.

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