Wednesday, 1 June 2022

European People's Party Calls for Electoral and Constitutional Reforms in BiH

ZAGREB, 1 June 2022 - The European People's Party (EPP) adopted a resolution at its conference in Rotterdam on Wednesday, calling for electoral and constitutional reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina in line with decisions by international courts and the BiH Constitutional Court.

The "emergency resolution", tabled by the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) calls for "electoral reforms to be addressed swiftly in an inclusive manner while complying with the requirements of EU membership."

As the largest group in the European Parliament the EPP believes that it is necessary to implement "electoral and constitutional reforms, in line with both EU principles and international and constitutional court decisions, which includes the equality of (Bosnia and Herzegovina's) three constituent people, others and all citizens."

As a positive example, the resolution cites the agreement between political parties to hold local elections in Mostar in December 2020 which, it says, underlined "the multicultural reality of BiH."

The EPP welcomed a recent visit by European Council President Charles Michel to Sarajevo.

The resolution notes that "in the context of the drastically deteriorated security environment in Europe," caused by Russia's aggression against Ukraine, the Union "must prevent possible new negative scenarios and make efforts to steer the Southeast Europe towards accelerated acceptance of fundamental European values."

The EPP condemned any questioning of BiH's territorial integrity and sovereignty and any unconstitutional secessionist actions, calling for the blockade of state institutions to be lifted.

"The EPP supports political dialogue which must be given priority over blocking the most important political processes and reforms," the resolution notes.

After an agreement was achieved on the text of the resolution, a number of media outlets in Sarajevo said on Tuesday evening that the term "legitimate representatives", as proposed in the HDZ's original draft, was removed, which they interpreted as a defeat of the policy pursued by the HDZ and the HDZ BiH.

The leaders of the largest Croat and Bosniak parties in BiH, Dragan Čović (HDZ BIH) and  Bakir Izetbegović (SDA) respectively, attended the conference.

Their parties are EPP candidates so their delegates could not vote, and both leaders expressed appreciation for the resolution but put emphasis on different elements.

"The EPP has called for an urgent reform of the election law in line with international rulings and decisions of the BiH Constitutional Court, including the equality of the three constituent peoples as a necessary precondition for Bosnia and Herzegovina's political stability and European future," Čović said on Tuesday, adding that the EPP remains to be a reliable partner to the HDZ BiH, the Fena news agency reported.

In a Twitter post on Tuesday Izetbegović thanked "friends and partners in the EPP for accepting our arguments and recognising, in the adopted resolution, the real priorities in BiH as well as clearly identifying the political actors who are blocking democratic processes in the country and its journey to the European Union."

For more, check out our politics section.

Sunday, 15 May 2022

Grlić Radman Asks For Additional US Engagement Regarding BiH Election Reform

ZAGREB, 15 May 2022 - Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić Radman on Sunday asked at a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for additional US engagement on the election reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina, warning that otherwise radicalisation was possible in the country.

"I told the US Secretary of State that we are very much concerned about the missed chance to amend the BiH election law. I also warned of possible radicalisation of the situation after the elections," Grlić Radman told reporters.

He added that he had asked Blinken that the US enhance its presence and help ensure agreement between local Bosniak and Croat leaders on rules for general elections to be held in October.

The two officials were attending an informal meeting of the foreign ministers of NATO member-countries which again supported Ukraine in the fight against the Russian aggression.

"All the ministers reiterated their solidarity and expressed readiness for stronger engagement, not only by individual countries but by NATO as a whole," said the Croatian minister.

He stressed that NATO was not a party to the conflict but that it supported Ukraine's "just and defensive war."

At a meeting with NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană, Grlić Radman guaranteed full support to Finland and Sweden's bid to join NATO.

"We discussed also the pace of the procedure and I believe the issue could be resolved before the NATO summit to be held in Madrid in June," Grlić Radman said.

He repeated that he believed the doubts Turkey has expressed regarding the accession of Finland and Sweden would soon be removed through talks.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Sunday, 8 May 2022

Komšić to Seek Another Term on Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina

ZAGREB, 8 May 2022 - The Croat member of Bosnia and Herzegovina's tripartite state presidency, Željko Komšić, has confirmed he will seek another term in office at the general election set for 2 October.

"Yes, I will. I must continue, I cannot stop now," Komšić said in a programme of the commercial Face TV channel on Saturday when asked by the programme's host whether he would run for office again.

He said he would be the candidate of his party, the Democratic Front, and that he did not know if any large party would support him. "They all have their own policies and they must have candidates for this most important office."

Komšić said his candidacy was motivated by his struggle for a political concept in which people in Bosnia and Herzegovina would be recognised as individuals.

Komšić has been elected as the Croat representative three times. The country's election law allows two consecutive terms on the presidency, so he is entitled to seek another term.

His election angered the parties gathered within the Croatian National Assembly claiming that he was elected by Bosniaks and not Croats whose interests he was supposed to represent. That's why they insist that the present election law be amended to ensure legitimate representation.

Under the election law, the presidency consists of one Croat and one Bosniak from the Croat-Bosniak Federation entity and one Serb from the Republika Srpska entity.

The European Court of Human Rights has found in five of its rulings that this provision is discriminatory because it limits suffrage to ethnic affiliation and place of residence while preventing members of ethnic minorities and other groups from running for the presidency.

For more, check out our politics section.

Thursday, 5 May 2022

Čović Calls On Plenković And Milanović To Advocate For Bosnia Croats In EU And NATO

ZAGREB, 5 May 2022 - The president of the Croatian National Council of BiH, Dragan Čović, on Thursday called on Croatia's leaders, while there is still time, to warn the EU and NATO of the threat of the "gross and organised" outvoting of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina at October's general elections.

Čović met separately on Wednesday with Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and President Zoran Milanović. 

Čović appealed to the two officials to additionally raise the issue and warn of the gross and organised outvoting of the Croat people in BiH within the framework of the international associations they belong to - the EU, NATO, and all others - while there is still time for that, HNS BiH said in a press release.

Bosnia and Herzegovina's Central Electoral Commission called general elections for 2 October despite local Croat parties and Zagreb warning that based on the incumbent rules, the more numerous Bosniak people will once again outvote the Croats.

In the past three elections, Bosniak voters elected Željko Komišić as the Croat member of the country's presidency. Bosniak parties have announced that Bosniak voters will elect 6 of the 17 Croat delegates in the Upper House of the Federation entity parliament, which would be sufficient to exclude Croats from the government in that entity and at the state level.

Čović thanked Plenković and the Croatian government for their contribution to efforts to guarantee legitimate representation of the constituent peoples and for advocatingr the equality of Croats and for BiH's European path.

With regard to the meeting with Milanović, HNS BiH said that the need for an urgent agreement on election reforms was underscored and that all Croatian institutions will insist on that.

"Legitimate representation of the constituent peoples must be ensured but also the functionality of institutions in BiH," HNS BiH said in the press release.


For more, check out our politics section.

Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Grlić-Radman: Croatia Will Prevent Further Disenfranchisement of BiH Croats

ZAGREB, 4 May 2022 - Croatia's Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić Radman criticised the decision by BiH's Central Electoral Commission (SIP) to call an election, claiming that it cannot interpret non-existing provisions of the country's election law and noting that Zagreb will prevent further disenfranchisement of BiH Croats.

"Croatia will continue to prevent any scenario... that are aimed at further disenfranchising and destabilising Croats in BiH. Croatia will not stand by passively. That is why I deliberately came here today to show that we will continue to be resolute and firm," Grlić Radman said and conveyed a message from Prime Minister Andrej Plenković about "support to issues that are of vital interest for the Croat people in BiH."

Grlić Radman was speaking to reporters in Mostar, ahead of a conference dedicated to BiH's European integration.

SIP called a general election for 2 October despite the fact that provisions on the way delegates are elected to the House of Peoples have been erased, and the only one to oppose SIP's decision was its Croat member Vlado Rogić.

According to Minister Grlić Radman, there were no legal preconditions for SIP to call the election.

"We believe that SIP has assumed the prerogatives of the constitution-maker and legislature, which it cannot do. It is an administrative body and is not competent with regard to the erased articles of the election law," said Grlić Radman, noting that the erased positions suggest the law is deficient.

In its ruling on a complaint by Božo Ljubić of the umbrella BiH Croat organisation HNS BiH in the summer of 2017, the BiH Constitutional Court erased provisions of the election law regulating the indirect election of deputies to the BiH Federation House of Peoples, the Bosniak-Croat entity parliament's upper chamber, asking the national parliament to amend them to prevent manipulation in the election of representatives of the three constituent peoples in that chamber.

The Constitutional Court also erased a provision under which each of the ten cantons in the entity had to elect a representative of the constituent peoples to the House of Peoples if they were elected to the cantonal assembly. That segment has remained undefined throughout the election reform process.

Grlić Radman believes that that job is within the remit of the state-level parliament and that SIP cannot decide on the composition of the BiH Federation House of Peoples.

"The House of Peoples is a constitutional category and it cannot be filled by an administrative body," he underscored.

He expressed disappointment that the largest Bosniak party - SDA - had obstructed the election reform and added that outvoting Croats in BiH would not do good to anyone.

Grlić Radman, who was participating in a conference entitled "Preparing for Tomorrow: Europe's Global and Regional Role in Responding to Transnational Challenges", said Croatia wanted BiH and other Southeast European countries to join the EU as soon as possible.

BiH's Deputy Foreign Minister Josip Brkić said that there was no alternative to membership in the EU and NATO for BiH and the entire region.

"We are living the alternative now - an unstable and questionable economic and political situation, not just in BiH but in the entire Southeast Europe, which will stabilise in the future in the EU and become a better place to live in," said Brkić.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated politics section.

Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Bosnia and Herzegovina General Election Called For 2 October

ZAGREB, 4 May 2022 - A general election will be held in Bosnia and Herzegovina on 2 October, the Central Electoral Commission (SIP) decided on Wednesday.

"The election will be held on Sunday 2 October and the funds for the election have to be secured within 15 days of calling the election," SIP president Suad Arnautović said after the decision on the election was adopted.

Around €6 million has to be secured to conduct the election, which is to be decided by the Council of Ministers. The decision is uncertain at this point because the 2022 budget has not been adopted yet.

Only one of the two Croat members of the electoral commission voted against calling the election.

"There are no legal provisions or conditions at the moment to hold a free and democratic election in line with the Constitution," Vlado Rogić said. He claimed that a permanent election crisis has existed in BiH for years.

Rogić said that it is clear to everyone that a ruling by the European Court for Human Rights and the BiH Constitutional Court in the Ljubić case have not been implemented, which practically repealed the part of the election law that defines the way in which the House of Peoples in the Bosniak-Croat Federation entity is formed.

"In this case, there is no legal void and it cannot be resolved in any other way except to adopt new legislative provisions. We know that the Constitutional Court has ordered that, but those provisions have still not been adopted and BiH is getting into a situation where there are no provisions on key issues such as the election of certain bodies," Rogić said.

SIP member Vanja Bjelica Prutina claimed that Rogić's interpretation of legal void is unfounded and that there is no basis to defer the election because it is defined by the existing election law.

"I'm personally disappointed because parliament has failed to implement the rulings for years and that is truly defeating. However, that cannot affect the obligation to call an election," Bjelica Prutina said.

Also adopted were implementing acts and time limits, as well as a decision to conclude the electoral roll as it was on 3 May.

BiH citizens will vote for three members of the country's presidency, the House of Representatives of the BiH Parliament and of the Federation entity parliament, the National Assembly of the Republika Srpska entity and the president and vice president of that entity.

Cantonal councils in the Federation entity are elected directly. Cantonal councillors will then be delegated to form the new House of Peoples in the Federation entity, who in turn will elect delegates to the House of Peoples in the state parliament. A new speaker and two deputy speakers of the Federation parliament are elected indirectly.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated politics section.

Sunday, 1 May 2022

Milanović: Anyone Voting for NATO Expansion Without Reforms in BiH is a Traitor

ZAGREB, 1 May 2022 - President Zoran Milanović on Sunday said that any member of the Croatian parliament who votes for Finland and Sweden joining NATO prior to the election law in Bosnia and Herzegovina being amended is a traitor.

Milanović has already said on several occasions that he is opposed to Finland and Sweden joining the North Atlantic Alliance if the election law in BiH is not amended as it enables the more numerous Bosniaks to outvote the Croats in that neighbouring country.

Speaking in Varaždin where he attended a celebration of International Workers' Day, Milanović reiterated that Croatia has a "historic opportunity" to fight for BiH Croats, which is also in "Croatia's interest and not just a wild wish."

"I will label anyone who votes otherwise (for Sweden's and Finland's accession to NATO) a traitor. And I will label anyone who drinks coffee with them a traitor. There's no other way," said Milanović.

"If I were to speak sleep-inducingly as (PM Andrej) Plenković does... then no one would listen to me. This way, I am taking on the burden of being awful, of people hating me, throwing eggs at me, booing me because I am fighting for a just cause. That is my duty. I am the president and supreme commander," he added.

Rafale jets are attractive but useless

Milanović also spoke about the purchase of 12 Rafale multipurpose fighter jets from France, underscoring that they were overpaid and useless, and that France has not advocated changes to the election law in BiH.

"Where if France's assistance regarding BiH? How much needs to be paid, ten billion euros? Is a billion and a half not enough?" asked Milanović.

He believes that it would have been better for Croatia to have bought a hundred drones and strengthened its air defence. But, he said, Plenković decided personally to buy the jets that are unnecessary for Croatia and "useless" in war but good "for showing."

"What use do we have of 12 Rafales with very little equipment and very few missiles? Do you see how short a jet's lifespan is in a war if they aren't the best?" he said.

He added that Hungary, with ten to twelve interceptors, did not manage to detect a Soviet-produced drone that fell in a Zagreb suburb in March.

For more, check out our politics section.

Wednesday, 27 April 2022

Bosniaks in Upper House of Parliament Block Croat Proposal to Amend Electoral Law

ZAGREB, 27 April 2022 - Bosniak members of Bosnia and Herzegovina's upper house of parliament on Wednesday blocked a vote on amendments to the electoral law put forward by the Croat HDZ BihH party, scuppering the last chance of changing the law before general elections are called for October.

"We declare this proposal harmful to the vital national interests of the Bosniak people," said MP Asim Sarajlić of the Democratic Action Party (SDA). He said that the proposal was completely unacceptable, unilateral and unconstitutional because relevant parliament committees did not have a chance to discuss it.

The parliamentary rules of procedure provide that in case of invoking protection of vital national interests a commission consisting of three members of each national political group should be immediately convened to address the issue in question. If the commission fails to do so, the matter is referred to the Constitutional Court within five days to be dealt with under an urgent procedure.

Explaining the proposal, HDZ MP Bariša Čolak said that his party aimed to create necessary legal prerequisites for calling elections, which the Central Election Commission plans to do on 4 May so that elections can be held in October.

"We no longer have time to wait, because elections have been announced and more comprehensive changes cannot be made because we have no time to amend the constitution," Čolak said, adding that this is why the proposal does not provide for the implementation of any of the five relevant judgments handed down by the European Court of Human Rights.

Čolak said that the most important thing now was to ensure the election of legitimate members of the state presidency and the upper houses of parliament at the state and entity level to prevent the domination of one constituent peoples over another.

HDZ BiH leader Dragan Čović said there were no legal conditions to hold elections after all attempts to reach a negotiated solution had failed in the last two years and the agreement signed by him and SDA leader Bakir Izetbegović in Mostar in 2020 was frustrated.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated politics section.

Wednesday, 30 March 2022

New President of BiH Electoral Commission Selected, Says October Election Definite

ZAGREB, 30 March 2022 - Suad Arnautović was selected as the new president of Bosnia and Herzegovina's (BiH) Central Electoral Commission (SIP) on Wednesday, and said SIP is preparing for elections to be held in October despite the fact that an agreement on changing the election law has not been reached yet. 

Arnautović succeeds Željko Bakalar and was selected with the support of six SIP members as part of the regular rotation for that position. SIP comprises two Croats, two Bosniaks, two Serbs and one member from an ethnic minority.

Leading Bosniak and Croat political parties have not yet agreed on amendments to the election law which should incorporate rulings by the European Court of Human Rights and BiH's Constitutional Court, which have determined that the current law is discriminatory. Arnautović confirmed that SIP is preparing for the autumn elections because that is an obligation based on valid legislative provisions.

"We have been appointed to implement the election law...and it precisely regulates deadlines and one of our first obligations is to call elections this year," Arnautović said.

The current election law in BiH foresees general elections on the first Sunday in October every four years.

SIP is obliged to call the elections no later than 150 days prior to their holding, which means that that has to be done by 4 May.

Croat political parties gathered around the Croatian National Council have not denied the possibility of boycotting the elections if an agreement on amendments to the election law is not reached. Although there is still time for that, any agreement reached would have to be supported in the parliament with relevant amendments to the law and the Constitution too.

SIP is also faced with another problem. The Council of Ministers has not yet adopted any decision regarding financing the election because the 2022 state budget has not yet been adopted.

Representatives of the international community in BiH, including the EU, USA and OSCE as well as the Office of the High Representative, strongly support the October elections and have called on the authorities to ensure the necessary funds while appealing to Croat parties to consider whether boycotting the elections would be worthwhile because in that case, they would lose any chance of participating in government.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Sunday, 27 March 2022

Bosniak Leader Tells EU Officials SDA Willing to Continue Talks on Election Reform

ZAGREB, 27 March 2022 - Bosniak SDA party leader Bakir Izetbegović said in a letter to EU and Croatian leaders on Sunday he was ready to continue talks on changes to Bosnia's election law, but stressed that he would not accept solutions leading to further ethnic divisions, singling out the HDZ BiH as an advocate of such ideas.

In a letter to EU leaders whose content was reported to local media by Bosnia and Herzegovina's ruling Bosniak party, Izetbegović said that "the HDZ's tough positions, excessive insistence on the principle of ethnicity and refusal to seriously discuss defining the powers of the House of Peoples of the Parliament of the BiH Federation entity" had prevented an agreement during negotiations mediated by EU and US officials.

The last round of negotiations ended inconclusively a week ago and HDZ BiH leader Dragan Čović and Izetbegović have since traded a number of serious accusations over the failure of the talks.

After that, Čović sent a letter to EU officials informing them of the positions of parties gathered in the Croatian National Assembly (HNS), an umbrella political organisation of BiH Croat parties, their point being that they insist on consistent respect for the constitutional rights of BiH's constituent peoples, including Croats, which includes the right to legitimate representation in all levels of government.

This prompted Izetbegović to write to European Council President Charles Michel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, as well as Croatian President Zoran Milanović and Prime Minister Andrej Plenković.

In his letter, Izetbegović particularly condemns the possible launching of the process of territorial reorganisation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the boycott Croat parties could opt for if the coming election is organised in line with the existing election law.

Izetbegović says that any attempt to unilaterally change the country's territorial structure would be in direct violation of the Dayton Agreement and jeopardise peace and stability, and that he sees it as the restoration of Herceg-Bosna, the Bosnian Croat statelet established during the country's 1992-1995 war.

As for the possible boycott of the elections, Izetbegović says that it is a democratic way to demonstrate one's dissatisfaction, to which everyone is entitled, but notes that it does not mean the right to obstruct and block elections because that is against the country's constitution.

The SDA leader also resolutely dismisses the HDZ's claims that the SDA wants to establish a unitary state, noting that by using such accusations Čović and his associates are actually looking for an alibi for a policy that would lead to a complete division of the country along ethnic lines, which, he says, they have been doing in cooperation with Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik.

"I want to emphasis that during the last round of talks, significant progress has been made that can be the basis for the continuation of talks. The SDA will always accept negotiations that will lead to stabilisation and solutions that are in line with European standards and EU recommendations," reads Izetbegović's letter to EU officials and EU member-countries' leaders.

For more, check out our politics section.

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