Q&A: Bosnian elections

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Voters in Bosnia-Hercegovina go to the polls on 3 October for elections set to test the ethnically divided country's viability as a state.

Here BBC Monitoring looks at the complex multiple elections involved in this country of 3.8 million people, and key issues motivating the parties.

Bosnia-Hercegovina has EU aspirations, but is it a functioning state?

It remains divided between the Bosnia-Hercegovina Federation (BHF) - or Muslim-Croat Federation as it is also known - and the Bosnian Serb Republic (BSR). However, it does have a joint presidency, parliament and other state institutions based in the capital Sarajevo. Fifteen years after the civil war, the international community - largely meaning the EU and Nato - still supervises the country.

Just one of the major parties in the election openly transcends ethnic divisions. Zlatko Lagumdzija's Social Democrats depend on moderate Muslim voters and the votes of Serbs and Croats living in predominantly Muslim-populated areas.

But aren't people in both parts of the state taking part in the same elections?

Only up to a point. They elect the three members of the collective presidency, one from each main ethnic group. They also elect 42 delegates to the lower house of the joint parliament (the Bosnia-Hercegovina Parliamentary Assembly's House of Representatives).

But both parts also hold their own elections. The BHF needs to return 98 delegates to the lower house of its own parliament, as well as delegates to all 10 of its cantonal assemblies. As for the BSR, it is electing a president and two vice-presidents, as well as delegates to its own parliament.

In all, 8,730 candidates are standing, including just 11 independents. There are 39 political parties and 11 coalitions to choose from. It may sound like a lot, but these are seasoned voters: the 2010 vote is the sixth since the Dayton peace accord of 1995.

Any manifesto surprises this time around?

With the exception of Mr Lagumdzija's followers, Bosnia's main political parties are all set up along ethnic lines and are seen by their supporters as defenders of their ethnic interests.

In the BHF, a party led by media tycoon Fahrudin Radoncic has been seeking to portray itself as a new political option, taking the middle road between the two traditional big Muslim (or Bosniak, as they are commonly known) parties. It is is called the Union for a Better Future of Bosnia-Hercegovina, which abbreviates as the SBBBiH.

Of the two traditional predominantly Bosniak parties, Haris Silajdzic's Party for Bosnia-Hercegovina (SBiH) has gone from a moderate platform in 1996 to much more radical views. Mr Silajdzic, the incumbent Muslim member of the Bosnian presidency, has described the BSR as "genocidal creation" based on ethnic cleansing and called for its abolition.

The Party of Democratic Action (SDA) is larger than the SBiH. It is headed by a moderate, Sulejman Tihic. Bakir Izetbegovic, son of the party's founder and wartime Bosniak leader Alija Izetbegovic, is seen as the most influential member of the party's inner circle.

Croats have a choice of voting for the Democratic Union of Bosnia-Hercegovina (HDZ BiH) headed by Dragan Covic or the Croat Democratic Union 1990 headed by Bozo Ljubic. Mr Ljubic's party was founded in 2006 by disgruntled former HDZ officials opposed to constitutional reforms and enjoys the backing of Roman Catholics and Croatia's own ruling party.

In the BSR, Bosnian Serbs can choose between the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), headed by current BSR Premier Milorad Dodik, and the Together for Srpska coalition, which includes parties linked to Hague indictees Radovan Karadzic and Vojislav Seselj. Mr Dodik's party is considered to be a bulwark of Serb nationalism. He has been locked in a war of words with the political establishment in Sarajevo, particularly with Mr Silajdzic, whom he accuses of alienating the Serb entity from Bosnia.

Why do these elections matter?

They send an important signal about Bosnia's ability to survive as a state and move forward on its declared path of EU integration, or remain mired in political deadlock and ethnic intolerance. An improved political situation would also boost the ailing economy.

That said, recent surveys have suggested that the outcome of the election is not likely to offer many surprises or departures from existing policies.

One novelty in 2010 is the use of a single election IT system linking all municipal election commissions to the Central Election Commission and enabling the election results to be processed electronically.

The full results are expected to be known on 4 October.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.

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