Bosnia and Herzegovina holds its seventh general elections on 12 October. Since the end of the war, political allegiance has been usually based on ethnic identity. Ethnic politics will play its role in Sunday’s elections too, but there are other issues too. The debate, following , has centred most on , allegedly corrupt politicians, - at 27.5%, the unemployment rate in Bosnia is consistently among the highest in the Balkans. The employment rate remains below 40%, and . Meanwhile, the salary of lawmakers is six times the country’s average wage - a rarely lopsided difference, making .
An additional blow to the economy were the , which inflicted damages of €2bn (about 15% of the country’s GDP).
Bosnia is home to what is most probably the world’s most complicated system of government. Any understanding of this rather unique constitutional and institutional set up needs to begin with the .
Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia on 1 March 1992, triggering a secessionist bid by the country’s Serbs backed by Belgrade, and a war that left about 100,000 dead.
The . The agreement achieved its immediate purpose of putting an end to the bloodshed, but it froze its ethnic divisions in place. The accords also bequeathed an extremely complex system of government, which has made governance extremely difficult.
One country, two entities
Bosnia and Herzegovina comprises two entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Republika Srpska. The main cities in the Federation are the capital Sarajevo, and the cities of Mostar, Tuzla, Bihac and Zenica, while in the Republika Srpska entity the main cities are Banja Luka, Bijeljina, Prijedor and Trebinje. Formally part of both entities is the , a multi-ethnic self-governing administrative unit.
Within this system there is the constant backdrop of different aspirations: Republika Srpska seeking greater autonomy, Croat parties angling for a third entity, and several Bosniak parties hoping for a more centrally governed country.
The Federation is predominantly Bosniak (Muslims) and Croat (Catholics), while the Republika Srpska is Serb (Orthodox). The largest minorities are the Roma and Jewish communities. According to a 2013 census, Bosnia and Herzegovina has a population of about 3.8 million people. A demographic breakdown remains difficult as the 2013 census has yet to be fully completed, but according to the the composition of the population is 48% Bosniak, 37.1% Serb, 14.3% Croat and 0.6% “others”.
A very complicated system of government
1. A directly elected tripartite Presidency, which is in charge of foreign, diplomatic and military affairs, and the budget of state-level institutions. The three presidency members are from the three constituent nations - one Bosniak, one Serb, one Croat. Quite controversially, the candidates are “self-defined” as such and must only claim one identity, so you cannot have someone standing (or voting) for both the Bosniak and Croat member, or identifying outside these pre-constituted groups - for example, anyone who considers themselves as simply Bosnian, Roma or Croat and Jewish, is ineligible. Each member is separately elected by plurality vote (the candidate with most votes, but not necessarily a majority, wins).
2. The Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina encompasses a House of Representatives and a House of Peoples. The 42 members of the house of representatives are directly elected via a system of proportional representation. 28 members are elected in the Federation, 14 in the Republika Srpska. The 15 members of the house of peoples are indirectly elected by the entities’ parliaments, with two-thirds of members from the Federation (five Croats and five Bosniaks) and one-third from the Republika Srpska (five Serbs).
3. The Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina is nominated by the Presidency and approved by the House of Representatives - s/he is effectively the Prime Minister, and nominates ministers. The state government is in charge of security and defence (so enacting through legislation the decisions of the presidency), customs and immigration, fiscal and monetary policy, and facilitating inter-entity coordination and regulation.
4. At an entity level, both the Federation and the Republika Srpska have significant autonomy. The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina has a directly-elected 98-member house of representatives. The Republika Srpska has an 83-member national assembly. Entities’ parliaments have jurisdiction over healthcare, education, agriculture, culture, veteran issues, labour, police and internal affairs.
5. At both state and entity levels, delegates to the upper houses have the primary duty of ensuring that there is agreement between constituent nations, and representatives of minorities, when confirming legislation.
6. Both entities have a Prime Minister and 16 ministries. The Federation is furthermore divided into 10 cantons, each with its own administrative government and relative autonomy on local issues such as education and health care.
The voting system (for elections taking place on Sunday)
Members of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s parliament are elected through open lists and via proportional representation.
At a state level, Bosnia and Herzegovina is divided into eight electoral units, three in the Republika Srpska and five in the Federation.
Each presidency member is separately elected by plurality vote with each voter in the Federation choosing either a Bosniak or Croat candidate, and those in the Republika Srpska electing a Serb candidate.
The Central Electoral Commission reports an electorate of 3.2 million voters.