Bosnia has only 25 days left to change election rules

NEWS 04.04.201814:55

Bosnia and Herzegovina has entered an "alarming" political period that could get even more complicated as political parties are evidently not willing to change electoral legislation.

The new legislation would ensure the regularity of elections scheduled for October, said a coalition of nongovernmental organisations called “Pod lupom” (Under Scrutiny), which monitors the regularity of the election process in the country based on the model of Croatia’s GONG.

The country’s general elections should be held on October 7, and under the country’s election law they must be called six months in advance, namely by May 6 at the latest, which is the deadline for changes to election legislation to be made.

“Twenty-five days remain until that deadline, and there are no signs that anything will happen until then,” Dario Jovanović, the coordinator of the coalition, whose activities are financed by the European Union, told reporters in Sarajevo.

The head of the European Union Delegation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, and US Ambassador Maureen Cormack have scheduled a new round of talks with the leaders of the largest, predominantly Bosniak parties in an effort to secure agreement on a new election model. The new model would ensure a new type of indirect election of deputies to the House of Peoples of the Parliament of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH), the country’s Bosniak-Croat entity, in line with the ruling of the Constitutional Court from 2016 in the case of a complaint filed by Bosnian Croat politician Božo Ljubić.

The meeting with Bosniak parties has additional weight as it involves acting US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Palmer.

On Tuesday Palmer held separate talks on the matter with members of the three-member Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Following the meetings, the released press statements indicated that the positions of the country’s key politicians on changes to electoral legislation continue to differ as before.

Jovanović said on Wednesday that the ruling in the Ljubić case was only one of a number of rulings that had found irregularities in the country’s electoral system.

“Nine years since the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in the Sejdić-Finci case, eight years since the Constitutional Court ruling in the case of Mostar, with three more rulings by the European Court published in the meantime, nothing has been done. That shows that politicians in this country just babble, doing nothing,” Jovanović said.

An analysis done by his NGO showed that since 2012, despite numerous recommendations for the improvement of the election process, almost nothing has been done.

The only change made since then is the raising of the preferential election threshold on party slates, with lower-ranked candidates on those slates now having to pass a 20 percent threshold instead of a 5 percent threshold to possibly win a seat in a legislative body.

This rule will be applied in the October election, which in fact will render the system of open party slates pointless. Under that system, voters can theoretically elect their preferred candidate regardless of how their party has ranked them.

“That means that voters will choose candidates from de facto closed slates,” Jovanović said, warning that in this way party leaders were again assuming full control of the election process.

The NGO has decided to submit to the national parliament additional amendments to the election law which, among other things, prevent the now common political trade-offs involving candidates who arbitrarily declare their ethnicity.

Under the amendments, each candidate would have the possibility to declare their ethnicity as they choose, but they would be banned from changing it for a period of three election cycles.