The president of Bosnia & Herzegovina’s smaller entity, Republika Srpska, has put on hold plans for a controversial referendum on the authority of the state-level judicial institutions. The move was seen by local analysts and politicians as a climbdown by president Milorad Dodik following heavy international pressure.
The planned referendum, announced by Dodik in July 2015, provoked a strong negative reaction from western diplomats and international institutions since it would breach the 1995 Dayton agreement that ended the Bosnian war. This would have potentially serious consequences for stability in the country. It was also seen as one of the main hurdles on Bosnia’s path towards the European Union.
The date for the referendum was initially set for November 15, 2015, but was postponed after a court challenge. A new date has not been set yet, but the leader of the opposition National Democratic Movement (NDP) Dragan Cavic said in September that Republika Srpska could hold the referendum in mid-March 2016 or this summer.
According to Radio Free Europe, Dodik told a press conference on February 8 that he was pleased that the opposition parties in Republika Srpska supported the decision to hold the referendum, but that this was not enough for it to go ahead.
“I will have to conduct an additional survey and find out whether this is a genuine support. This means that we need to return [the referendum topic] back to the parliament of Republika Srpska and vote on the date for the referendum. Without consensus it cannot be held,” Radio Free Europe quoted Dodik as saying.
His statement provoked strong negative reactions from rival political leaders. Cavic accused Dodik of being extremely frivolous and said that his statements were hypocritical.
“Dodik promised a referendum and did not hold it. He promised to lower the taxes, but increased them,” Cavic was quoted as saying by local daily Dnevni Avaz.
The leader of the opposition Serb Democratic Party (SDS), Mladen Bosic, also said that Dodik was no longer a credible politician and blamed him for showing “political cowardice”, daily Nezavisne Novine reported. Bosic added that Dodik had harmed the authority of Republika Srpska’s parliament, which is supposed to make the final decision on the referendum.
In its latest Freedom in the World report, issued in January, Freedom House noted that the decision to call the referendum could worsen Bosnia’s government dysfunction, and put the country on its 2016 watchlist for countries potentially approaching important turning points on their democratic trajectory.
Bosnia comprises two independent entities – Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation - each with their own institutions. Additionally, the country has state-level institutions.
The High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, together with the Office of the High Representative (OHR), were set up in 1995 following the signing of the Dayton agreement, or General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP). Their purpose is to oversee the civilian implementation of the Dayton agreement and to represent the countries involved in it through the Peace Implementation Council (PIC).
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