Activists propose an end to Bosnia’s dysfunctional politics

Author: Alexander Kuli
Uploaded: Wednesday, 09 July, 2014

A new campaigning coalition has launched a plan to transform the ethnic-territorial political system that stands accused of crippling the country’s development since the 1990s war.

The Bosnian constitution established under the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement was designed to protect the interests of partisans in an ethnic war, not to support long-term state-building, leaders of a civic coalition known as Koalicija 143 (Coalition 143) argued at a late June conference in the southern city of Mostar.   ‘The Dayton system institutionalized warlord politics. Now they have a collective interest in maintaining that system,’ said Kurt Bassuener, president of the Sarajevo-based Democratization Policy Council and an adviser to Koalicija 143.   ‘They’ve never been accountable to their citizens. That’s what we want to change,’
Dayton saddled this country of around 3.8 million people with a byzantine system that includes a three-person rotating presidency, a two-chamber federal parliament, the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska, the Muslim-Croat Federation, 10 cantonal governments within the Federation, and a host of local authorities.   The maze of overlapping institutions has led to administrative paralysis, depriving people of adequate services in areas ranging from food safety to identification cards to rubbish collection.
Koalicija 143 unveiled its proposed solution at the Mostar conference, which it calls ‘municipalization’ – although doubts were immediately raised about whether some Bosnians would ever accept such drastic changes to the post-war status quo.   The K-143 plan would replace the Dayton system with a two-layered structure comprising a single national government and 143 municipalities, the number that inspired the group’s name, abolishing both the entities and all the cantons.  Bosnians would benefit if municipalities were allowed to pursue rational self-interest, free of ethnicity-based constraints, K-143 argues.
In February, popular anger over the systemic failures reached boiling point when mass protests erupted across the country.   ‘People were disgusted with not being served and watching their tax money get funnelled to politically-made men,’ Bassuener said.
Under the K-143 proposal, published in full after the Mostar conference, local governments would take control over primary and secondary education, urban planning and transportation, while the national administration would handle healthcare, pensions and welfare services.
The plan seeks to make politicians accountable to voters, Bassuener said. Instead of voting for slates of candidates selected by party bosses in faraway cities, each municipality would vote for one candidate to represent them in a single-chamber parliament.   Large cities would get more than one mandate, while parliament would elect a prime minister as well as a president who would have a strictly ceremonial role.   Such changes would eradicate obstacles on Bosnia’s path to European Union membership, K-143 argues. 
Accession is off the table until Bosnia brings its constitution into line with the European Court of Human Rights’ 2009 Sejdic-Finci ruling, which found that Bosnia discriminates against minorities by allowing only Muslims, Croats and Serbs to serve in the presidency and other high offices.   K-143’s model imposes no ethnic restrictions on legislative office-holders. The plan guarantees that no single ethnic group would be able to dominate, its authors stressed. Three-fifths parliamentary majorities would be required for sensitive issues such as electing the prime minister and passing the state budget. Also, a 20-member Council of Peoples would ensure that no law infringes any group’s vital national interests.
To prove that its proposal is superior to the current set-up, K-143 plans to launch a shadow parliament that would operate in tandem with the real parliament that voters will elect in October, Bassuener said.   But given the failure of all previous attempts at constitutional reform, doubters worry that many Bosnians, especially Serbs, would condemn any effort to alter the Dayton structure.
Zdravko Krsmanovic, former mayor of the eastern Bosnian city of Foca and a longtime advocate of constitutional reform, agreed that local communities need greater powers, but said that abolishing entities and cantons was too radical.   ‘I advocate the transfer of competences,’ Krsmanovic said. ‘The true power would be in the hands of the state and the local communities, while the entities would be there only to protect the national interests of the people, like Republika Srpska protects the national interests of the Serbs and the cantons protect Bosniak and Croat national interests,’ he explained.
But Aleksandra Pandurevic, a member of Bosnia’s federal parliament from the Serb Democratic Party, warned that any transfer of powers could spark new tensions in a country where memories of past conflict remain vivid.   ‘When someone starts talking about the transfer of competences, that’s when he opens Pandora’s Box,’ she said.
Koalicija 143 is made up of the Centre for Constitutional and Governance Studies, the European Research Centre, the Centre for Civic Cooperation and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. This report from Mostar appeared on the BIRN website


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