Later this week, Bosnia’s ethnonationalist Bosniak Democratic Party of Action (SDA) will have to decide whether it will take part in a meeting to discuss the formation of a new central government following 3 October general elections.
The meeting, which is scheduled to take place on 10 January, was called by the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), led by the president of Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, in collaboration with the country’s two largest Croat nationalist parties.
The moderate Social Democratic Party (SDP), which won the most votes in the country’s Bosniak- and Bosnian Croat-dominated Federation entity, will not attend the meeting.
The Bosniak SDA, despite its hesitancy in making an announcement, will most likely participate in the meeting. The party cannot afford to be in the opposition, and will not accept any position that does not have it as the main representation of the country’s ‘Bosniak’ bloc in the State Government.
For the SDP, despite what initially seemed to some to be a very heartening victory at the polls, the decision not to attend the SNSD-initiated meeting likely means that the party is choosing to return to the opposition. This has been a difficult choice for the SDP.
The SNSD and SDP have been back and forth since the elections, with the public unsure at any moment whether the two could strike a coalition deal. The two rival parties have eight elected deputies each in the state parliament’s 42-seat chamber, and could have created a loose coalition of the main parties of all three ethnic communities. For the past eight years, the moderate SDP has been in the opposition, while the SNSD has been in the ruling government.
In the first week of December, Dodik’s SNSD, which won elections in Republika Srpska, made overtures to the moderate SDP, with Dodik sitting down with his fierce rival, SDP leader Zlatko Lagumdzija, to discuss a possible coalition deal for State Government.
But the two parties have no shared political agenda, and many of the disagreements center precisely on EU integration and the reforms necessary for EU membership.
Furthermore, the SDP simply cannot afford such a move: essentially, it would mean that the SDP would be in violation of all of its election promises and that it was tossing aside its principle in the name of electoral mathematics. But far more dangerous for the SDP could be a further loss of party officials and supporters, as most of the local branches are strongly opposed to allying with nationalist parties.
As this author wrote in early December in a commentary/analysis for the International Relations and Security Network (ISN), “Though the SDP has made major gains this time around, a simple tally of votes is not necessarily the right baseline for determining victory. Indeed, it might be politically expedient for the moderates to throw in the towel and remain in the opposition rather than risk the destruction of the party.”
Overall, the formation of a new government will be a disheartening exercise: While the new government stands to be the strongest ruling coalition in the last eight years – comprised of electoral winners from all three ethnic groups drawing on additional support from smaller parties – this is not a positive development. Indeed, it is the worst case scenario for the new government: Such a coalition would be the least efficient and riddled with political obstruction, more so than at any time in the past.