Bosnia gripped by deadlock

AFP, Monday 3 Jan 2011

Bosnia suffers a deadlock 3 months following a general elections that could strain ethnic relations and impair reforms

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, with a Republika Srpska map on 1 September 2010. (Reuters)

Three months on from general elections, Bosnia is gripped by a political deadlock that has fanned ethnic tensions and blocked reforms needed to meet its goal of European Union membership, say analysts.

Under the Balkan country's complex political system, two executive bodies with their own governments , the Serb-run Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation, are linked by a weak central government.

But since the October 3 elections, only the Republika Srpska has managed to form a government, leaving Bosnia without central institutions needed to adopt key reforms sought by the European Union.

Analysts are warning the formation of a central government could take months and the haggling could exacerbate tensions that have plagued Bosnia since the 1992-95 war which saw Bosnians, Serbs and Croats pitted against each other.

The impasse "could further deepen inter-ethnic tensions," said Srecko Latal, a political analyst for the International Crisis Group think tank.

He also pointed out that the whole process of implementing the reforms Brussels insists on, mainly strengthening the central government at the expense of the other two entities, has already been blocked for years.

After the October elections two political blocs were formed, one around the Union of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) of Bosnian Serb President Milorad Dodik and the other led by the Social Democratic Party (SDP), a multi-ethnic formation headed by former Bosnian premier Zlatko Lagumdzija.

But while Dodik has advocated a quick formation of the central government that would then discuss reforms, Lagumdzija insists the parties that form a coalition agree on a programme of reforms first.

With the two sides unable to agree on even the basic principles for forming a government, analysts warn the deadlock is likely to persist.

"It is senseless to insist on an agreement on the reforms that were impossible to implement during the past four years, as a condition to form a new government," Latal said.

"These are two completely different approaches and this situation will provoke a long-lasting process of talks," analyst Sanel Huskic of the ACIPS non-governmental organisation, known for its work on Bosnia's EU integration, told AFP.

The SDP's insistence on an agenda is a novelty on the Bosnian political scene, since previous central governments were only an alliance of parties that won within each ethnic community and lacked an overall programme, Huskic said.

"The SDP has brought in a new spirit, a new kind of game, more normal, that maybe heralds a new era of political wisdom in Bosnia," he said.

Despite the obvious differences in their approaches, Dodik and Lagumdzija met on two occasions since the elections and both said they wanted to restart the process of Bosnia approaching the EU.

But Dodik, who is backed by the two main Croat parties, the Croat Democratic Union and the Croat Democratic Union 1990, is becoming impatient and has called on the SDP and the biggest Muslim party, the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), to meet next Monday to try to stitch together a grand coalition.

The SDP has insisted, however, that it would only participate if the other parties propose their own agenda of reforms.

Lagumdzija for his part has accused Dodik of wanting to "try to continue (with the stagnation) of the past four years."

"We will not participate in something that goes in that direction," he stressed.

Analyst Milos Solaja, a political science professor at Banja Luka University, warned the deadlock could continue as many feel the entities can run themselves without the central government.

"The central government is not really needed since the country can function without it. In this way the crisis could be prolonged for an indefinite period," he said.

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