Bosnia’s Federation Entity Names New Government, But Instability Will Govern

By Anes Alic

After five months of back-and-forth negotiations following October 2010 general elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the new parliament and government have been named in the Bosniak and Croat-dominated Federation entity.

There has been an inability to reach a consensus at the highest levels for the distribution of ministries and key posts, and the appointment of officials to two key ministries has still not been resolved. Despite the initial progress of naming a new government and parliament, the country is poised to experience its least effective government in recent history, and possibly even early elections.

The naming of the Federation government and parliament comes at the eleventh hour and only as the risk of massive social unrest looms if a new government fails to pass its budget for this fiscal year by the end of this month. In late January, the international community’s High Representative to Bosnia Valentin Inzko imposed temporary financing for the first quarter of 2011, in lieu of a real budget. His decision expires in later this month.

The naming of the parliament and government was followed by the nearly three months of turbulent negotiations among the parties, with talks appearing to focus largely on jockeying for position and career-building rather than policy.

The Federation entity House of People’s has 58 members; however, the Croatian delegates from two parties  the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HDZ) and the HDZ 1990  refused to attend the session and refused to enter the ruling coalition.
Coalition-building negotiations were held in an unpredictable atmosphere, due to the inability to reach an agreement with HDZ and HDZ 1990, which won some 60% of Bosnian Croat votes and demanded that all ministerial posts at the state and entity level reserved for Bosnian Croats be given to officials from these two parties only.

Ethno-Political Blackmail

The two parties chose to block the formation of the parliament perceiving that it is likely to be dominated by a political bloc led by the moderate, multiethnic Social Democratic Party (SDP), which could exclude Croat nationalist forces from the new government. The SDP refused to accept the HDZ’s conditions, insisting that the SDP should get two ministerial seats for Bosnian Croat SDP members, one at the entity level and one at the state level. Croat nationalist refuse to accept moderate Bosnian Croat figures in these posts, saying they do not represent real Croat interests.

When it became clear that an agreement would not be reached, the SDP-led bloc announced that it would form a new government without the two HDZ parties, while the positions and institutions reserved for Bosnian Croats would be given to the two smaller Bosnian Croat parties, the Croatian Party of Rights (HSP) and the Prosperity Through Work Party (NSRB)  even though these two parties had negligible showings at the polls.

The parties gathered together in a bloc including the SDP, the Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA), HSP and NSRB, were unable to form the House of Peoples because Bosnia’s Central Election Commission maintains that a constitutive session of the House of Peoples cannot be held until all 10 cantons in the Federation have elected their representatives to the Federation parliament. HDZ and HDZ 1990 stalled on naming representatives from the four cantons with Bosnian Croat majority, and though they have now been name, they have not officially taken office. Officially, the government and parliament have been formed despite this, and the CEC remains against the move as a violation of the constitution.

The two HDZ parties maintain that the SDP and its partners are not the legitimate representatives of Croats in Bosnia. However, now these influential nationalist Croat parties will be excluded entirely from power in the Federation for the first time in nearly a decade.

HDZ leader Dragan Covic told local media after the talks failed that HDZ insists on filling Croat positions with legitimate Croat representatives. It is not a matter of five posts, it is a matter of dignity. The ‘dignity’ card was also brought up by SDP officials.

The international community, led by the Office of High Representative and the US Embassy, which initiated and supervised the talks, expressed regret that the two sides failed to find a compromise, but are viewing the formation of the new government and parliament as legitimate, despite the CEC’s concerns.

Not a Formula for Stability

The formation will surely fail to create stability in the entity. Being in the opposition on the Federation level, the two HDZ parties will form the governments in the four cantons dominated by Croats, and say they will refuse to recognize the Federation authorities, nor will they feel obliged to implement Federation government decisions. This move could also be seen as a step closer to the HDZ’s long desired wish to create a third entity in the cantons where they have a majority.

What could further complicate the work of Federation institutions is that the two HDZ parties enjoy a majority among Bosnian Croat representatives in the parliaments and they could easily block its work. The same could happen in the state parliament, once it is formed.

Even though the idea of Bosnian Croats having their own entity is nearly 20 years old, recently the calls for such have increased, as the two HDZ parties have received support from Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik for their plans.

With the two HDZ parties kicked out of the Federation government, they surely will not
side with the SDP or SDA on the state level, but will court Dodik’s Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), which has already announced that the stability and prosperity of the state institutions are not their priority. Furthermore, the creation of the state parliament and government could be delayed indefinitely, as the SNSD has refused to open talks on the state level with the Federation’s ‘illegal’ authorities.

Still, it is possible that the four majority coalition parties in the Federation could be forced into the opposition on the state level, once the talks are launched. The two HDZ parties have already demonstrated their willingness to side with the SNSD and the Serb Democratic Party (SDS), while they also could ally with other Bosniak parties, the Union for Better Future of Bosnia and Herzegovina (SBB) and Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina (SBiH).

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