Nationalist parties in Bosnia & Herzegovina have claimed victory in the October 2 local elections although the final results are yet to be announced.
The local elections were accompanied by high tensions and an increasingly nationalistic mood in the country as they took place a week after Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity – Republika Srpska – held a referendum on the celebration of its Republic Day despite a ban by the state-level constitutional court. The referendum appears to have given a boost to the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) led by the entity’s President Milorad Dodik, while the strong opposition to the referendum from Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) nationalist politicians resulted in higher support for them as well.
Around 3.3mn voters were eligible to elect municipal councils in Bosnia’s two entities – the Federation and Republika Srpska, as well as 10 city councils - four in the Federation and six in Republika Srpska. They also elected an assembly in the autonomous Brcko district.
In Republika Srpska, Dodik’s SNSD seems to have won more than 30 of the mayoral posts, according to preliminary results based on 93% of the votes counted by the central election committee. This is around one third more than in the previous elections in 2012. Igor Radojcic, the party’s candidate for mayor of Banja Luka – Republika Srpska’s administrative centre – has gained more than 56% support.
The main Bosniak party - Social Democratic Party (SDA), which is part of the ruling coalition in the state-level and Federation governments, is winning 33 mayoral posts, including in eight of the nine cantons in Bosnia’s capital Sarajevo.
Some analysts have suggested that the referendum was intended to increase support for the SNSD and Dodik ahead of the local elections, and distract from corruption scandals surrounding the entity’s president. The resounding yes vote in the referendum appears to have served the party well in the local election, giving rise to speculation that Dodik could push for a larger role in national-level politics, where his party is currently in opposition.
“The referendum turned into a demonstration in defence of historical memory and Serb identity, and this allowed the government of RS to divert the attention of the opposition and the public away from such issues as corruption, nepotism and economic problems,” write analysts from the Warsaw-based Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW). “Thus the outcome of the referendum has strengthened the political position of President Dodik and the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) which he leads.”
“Mr Dodik may push for a coalition reshuffle at the state level, where his SNSD party would replace the SDS, currently in coalition with the ruling Bosniak and ethnic Croat parties,” says Maximilien Lambertson of the Economist Intelligence Unit in an emailed note. However, he warns that, “It could be politically toxic for the Bosniak leadership to enter into an alliance with Mr Dodik, resulting in renewed deadlock at the state level.”
Despite the furore surrounding the referendum, turnout in the local election - held just a week later - was relatively low at only 53.88%, according to initial data provided by CIK.
Bosnia’s High Representative Valentin Inzko called the turnout disappointing.
“Less than 55% turnout is somewhat disappointing. But it is important that citizens continue to take an active role in shaping their future by deciding on who should represent them for the next four years in their local communities,” Inzko said in a statement.
There were also concerns about the legitimacy of the result in both Srebrenica and Stolac.
In Srebrenica the preliminary result showed the Serb candidate was leading for the first time since the end of the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, when more than 7,000 Muslims were killed in the city. The mayoral post in the town has been taken so far by Bosniaks, but preliminary results show that the candidate backed by all Serb parties - Mladen Grujcic - is leading overwhelmingly with over 70% of the vote, forcing the current mayor, Bosniak Camil Durakovic, into a distant second place.
However, the Srebrenica outcome has been opposed by Durakovic who claimed that there must be something wrong as the number of votes supporting his opponent is 1,000 more than the number of votes supporting Serb candidates for the city council.
According to Klix.ba, the local election body in Srebrenica has already announced that it had provided wrong data due to mistakes by the election commissions. According to the revised results, the votes for Grujcic are 1,000 lower than the initially announced 3,879. Durakovic has got 1,631 of the votes. The election body has yet to count the 3,299 votes sent via mail and from abroad, which according to daily Avaz could change the situation.
Another local daily, Nezavisne Novine, reported that Grujcic has received two death threats via SMS since the first results were announced.
Inzko has condemned the problems in Stolac municipality, where all election sections were closed due to serious irregularities. According to local media reports, one of the candidates for mayor, the Bosniak Salmir Kaplan, physically attacked the head of the local voting committee, Ivan Peric, and two members of the committee. Peric and one of the committee members were taken to hospital. Following the attack, masked men seized several ballot boxes, Klix.ba reported.
The violence was provoked by Peric’s decision to allow voting with Croatian passports despite the ban by the state elections body, which has ruled that citizens with Croatian passports must show also another document proving their identity to be eligible to vote. Kaplan was also provoked by another decision by Peric – to replace Bosniak members of the voting committee who had opposed his initial decision. Klix.ba reported that Peric allowed citizens with expired passports to vote.
Meanwhile, the city of Mostar was once again excluded from the local elections as the main political parties there failed to find a solution that would allow local elections to be called. Although in spring the parties were close to reaching an agreement on how to divide Mostar into constituencies, a final decision had not been made by the deadline that expired 30 days before the elections.
Mostar is the only municipality in Bosnia where no local elections were held in 2012, after the constitutional court declared the electoral statute of the city unconstitutional and ordered the election system to be changed. The decision was taken by the court due to complaints from Croats on the city council that the electoral system gave Bosniaks the same number of councillors even though Croats are the majority group in the city. Mostar's city council is currently elected from six voting units, each of them electing the same number of councillors regardless of the number of voters in the unit.
Since 2012, the municipality has been administered without a municipal council. The two main parties of the city, which are also members of the ruling coalition – the Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA) and the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ BiH) - have been trying to find a compromise on reforming the statute of the city for several years.
“The leading political parties in Mostar bear the responsibility for this cynical and shameful disregard for the citizens of Mostar. It is their responsibility to find a solution for Mostar. They have to find it because this issue will not go away,” Inzko said in the statement.