Bosnia-Herzegovina will held general elections on Sunday, October 12 amid a climate of economic stagnation and social unrest. Voters will cast their ballots for the leaders of the country’s byzantine political system: three members of the ruling triumvirate (determined by ethnic affiliation) and parliaments for the country’s dual political entities, the Bosniak-Croat Federation (FBiH) and the Serb Republic (RS).
The election comes eight months after thousands took to the streets to demand widespread reforms needed to push Bosnia along the path to integration into the European Union, as well an end to government corruption, which costs taxpayers an estimated $945 million every year. The protest movement marked the first cohesive popular uprising since the end of the Bosnian war in 1995, and prompted hopes for a “Bosnian Spring.”
Yet in the intervening months little has changed. Corruption is rampant; unemployment is stuck around 27%. The country is still reeling from the financial impact of nationwide flooding in May (€2 billion, or nearly 15% of Bosnia’s GDP). Continuing tensions between political representatives of Bosnia’s major ethnic groups, Muslims, Serbs, and Croats, have delayed reforms – and with it Bosnia’s chances at beginning the integration process critical to its economic recovery.
But while outside observers are calling on Bosnians to vote en masse for change, it may not be so easy. The system in place has served to emphasize ethnic divisions, rather than foster national cohesion. (The multi-tiered political system was implemented by the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995, which ended the Bosnian conflict.) The result: political loyalties typically defined by ethnic identities – a trend reinforced by divisive political rhetoric – and government infighting that has helped maintain Bosnia’s status as one of Europe’s poorest nations.
The only silver lining is that it’s hard to imagine the next government doing any worse. In fact, the outgoing parliament and state governments were labeled the worse ever by a Bosnian NGO. According to the Center of Civil Initiatives (CCI), the current parliament performed twice as badly as its predecessor. Though the incoming administration may be hard pressed to do any better. After all, come Sunday, Bosnia’s new leaders – think three presidents, a dozen prime ministers, and over 1,200 MPs – will inherit staggering obstacles such as high joblessness rates, graft, and inadequate infrastructure. Worse still, they will be handicapped by Bosnia’s dysfunctional government structure, considered to be one of the most complicated in the world.