Upcoming Elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Future of the Dayton Regime

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After the death of Josip Broz Tito, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia experienced a bloody process that lasted for nearly 20 years due to the increasing ethnic conflicts, economic depressions, and the change in the balance of power in Eastern Europe and was divided into seven different countries.

The most painful process in the division took place during the founding period of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In this period, the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) suggested holding a referendum for the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The vast majority of those who participated in the referendum held in 1992, which boycotted by the Serbs voted for the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, this referendum caused a civil war by triggering ethnic and religious fault lines in the region.

In the same year, with the recognition of Bosnia and Herzegovina by both the EU and the United States (US), some bloody events took place between the Serbian Federal Army and the Bosnians. At a time when the Dayton Negotiations started, the Serbian Army attacked Srebrenica on the eve of the Serbian Holiday to gain an advantage in the negotiations, and the “Srebrenica Massacre”, the biggest massacre after the Second World War, happened.

Although the Dayton Peace Agreement signed on December 14, 1995 ended the civil war, it was insufficient to meet the needs of the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This treaty led to the formation of a weak central authority and a cumbersome state apparatus in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The heavy economic conditions brought by the period of Covid-19 pandemic, on the other hand, caused the regions, especially the Balkan geography, where the central authority is weak, to face a system crisis. Bosnia and Herzegovina is also one of the states that have felt this crisis most closely with its current cosmopolitan structure and the Dayton Order, which is no precedent for it in the world. The ethnic and religious fault lines between the Serbian Entity and the Bosnians in the country clearly invite foreign interventions.

On the other hand, the EU proposes to make some changes in the election law of Bosnia and Herzegovina and to revise the Dayton Agreement. The elections to be held on October 2, 2022, in the shadow of these discussions.

The Dayton Layout

On the Dayton Peace Treaty, two autonomous regions were established within the country, namely the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Serbian Entity. The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, mostly inhabited by Bosniaks and Croats, covers 51% of the country’s surface area; while the region inhabited by Serbs constituted 48%. In addition, there is Brçko region consists the %1 of the territory of the country that has autonomous government and not belong to any entity. The region called “Eastern Slavonia” was left under the control of Croatia. Thus, it was aimed to achieve a consensus among Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats, especially in foreign policy and economy.

In this context, it was decided that the two autonomous regions established within the country would have their own constitution, parliament and government. According to the treaty, the Presidential Council represents the highest political authority in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A structure was built in which three people representing the three founding elements in the country are elected for a period of four years and carry out the Presidency in rotations for eight-month periods. It has been decided that the Prime Minister will take office as a result of the voting in the House of Representatives, provided that he is proposed by the Presidential Council.[1] The Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina, on the other hand, includes a bicameral structure, the People’s Assembly with 15 members (5 Bosniaks, 5 Serbs, 5 Croats) and the Chamber of Representatives with 42 members (28 Members Bosnian Federation, 14 Serb Entities). Members of the People’s Assembly are elected by the assemblies of the entities.[2]

The Dayton Agreement does not only constitute political institutions; has also activated an international mechanism to ensure the continuity of the process. A 55-member Peace Implementation Council consisting of states and international organizations was established, which is responsible for implementing the requirements of the Treaty. The Office of the High Representative, of which Council is responsible, appointed by the Council and constitutes the executive wing of the council.

The High Representative has the power to impeach anyone who does not comply with the Dayton Agreement, including the President.[3] With the agreement, an “Implementation Force (IFOR)” of 60,000 people was deployed to the region under the leadership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to establish peace in the region. Parallel to the developments in the region, some changes were made in said military association. Until 2004, the “Stabilization Force (SFOR),” which was a simplified form of this military structure, operated in the region. Later, the task was given to the “Operation Althea” led by the EU.[4]

The Current Political Condition

Citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina will go to the polls on October 2, 2022, under the shadow of the election law debates. In the elections to be held, in addition to the Presidential Council and the Parliament, members of parliament will be determined in two autonomous regions, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBIH) and the Respublika Srpska (RS), and 10 cantons within the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The High Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the highest authority operating in the country, has been held by the German politician Christian Schmidt since August 1, 2021.[5] In the last Presidential Council elections held in 2018, Milorad Dodik from the Serbian Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, Shefik Dzaferovic from the Bosniak Democratic Action Party and Zeljko Komsic from the Croatian Democratic Front took the lead.[6]

Nine candidates are expected to compete for the Presidential Council in the elections. Bakir Izetbegovic, the Presidential Council candidate of the Democratic Action Party (SDA), the largest political party of Bosniaks in the country; The opposition bloc, which consists of eleven political parties, declared that they support Denis Becirovic, the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). The group calling itself the “State Coalition” nominated Mirsad Hadzikadic.

The current Croatian member of the council, Zeljko Komsic, has been the joint candidate of the Democratic Front (DF) and Popular Unity (GS) coalition. While the candidate of the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HDZ) is expected to be the party’s leader, Dragan Covic, it is claimed that Komsic’s opponent in this race will be Borjana Kristo.

The Union of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), headed by the Serbian member of the council, Milorad Dodik, nominated Zeljka Cvijanovic, the current president of Republika Srpska, for the council membership. Former Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations Mirko Sarovic became the candidate of the Serbian Progressive Party (SDS); Vojin Mijatovic, the candidate of the SDP, and Nenad Nesic, the candidate of the Democratic People’s Union (DNS).[7]

The Change in Electoral Law

No results could be obtained from the negotiations on the election law amendments in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which were desired to be held with the efforts of the West, especially the EU. The current ethnic and religious Dayton Order in the country is one of the most important obstacles to the country’s EU membership. For this reason, electoral law debates remain up-to-date, and no concrete progress can be made between the parties. The state’s budget for 2022 could not be accepted for a long time due to the inability to obtain a result from the negotiations between the parties, and this situation also prevented the availability of the necessary resources for the elections to be held.

The budget allocated to the Central Election Commission from the budget adopted after a long delay on June 6, 2022, was vetoed by the Minister of Finance, Vjekoslav Bevanda. At the session, with the initiative of Bevanda, a temporary solution was found for the financing of the elections and only a certain part of the amount needed for the elections was transferred to the Central Election Commission. With the intervention of Christian Schmidt, High Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina, 6.5 million euros were allocated to the Central Election Commission for the elections.[8]

As a result of the meetings held in Bonn, Germany on December 9, 1997, the High Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina was equipped with very broad powers and these powers were recorded in the literature as “Bonn Powers”.

Thanks to these powers, the High Representative obviously intervenes in many processes in the country. As a matter of fact, the deadline Schmidt gave to political leaders to amend the election law is in September 2022. The electoral law that Schmidt wants to put into effect stipulates that if an ethnic group in the cantons of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina is below 3% of the total entity population, according to the census conducted in 2013, a deputy from that canton will not be elected to the People’s Assembly of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to the current law, every constituent element in the country has the right to remove members in all cantons.[9]

As it is known, the Balkan geography has hosted global power struggles throughout history. Within the framework of the struggle, other countries in the region have tended to develop alliance relations with NATO and the US against the historical unity of the Serbs and the Russian. However, the fact that the election law negotiations in Bosnia and Herzegovina led by the US and the EU did not yield any results shows that the Western alliance is insufficient to solve the problems in the region. Moreover, the current situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina carries the risk of turning into a security crisis that rapidly deepens the political crisis.

Essentially, the Dayton Regime is an issue, in which NATO directly becomes a side. If the problem cannot be resolved, NATO’s regional influence and problem-solving capability will be questioned by the countries in the region, and the psychological superiority will pass to the Serbs and therefore to Russia.

How the Bosnia and Herzegovina crisis will evolve; it may have global effects such as the enlargement of the EU and questioning the existence of NATO. In addition, future developments will affect the Albanian-Serbian tension in the Balkans in particular, and even the Ukraine Crisis in general. If the political instability in Bosnia and Herzegovina continues, Western states, especially the US and England, using the Ukraine War as an excuse; it can take steps to increase its military presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina, just like in Albania and Kosovo.

It should be noted that; despite the long-running electoral law reform debate in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country’s electoral commission announced that general elections would be held on October 2, 2022. However, in a country like Bosnia and Herzegovina that harbors delicate balances, it seems unlikely that a radical electoral law reform would be realized with external impositions in such a short time. Especially because the Ukraine War has increased the polarization in the Balkans, it is difficult for the parties in the country to meet on a common ground. On the other hand, it is seen that the tension between Serbia and Kosovo escalates from time to time. In this environment, it can be argued that the regional conjuncture is not suitable for changing the status quo in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Finally, it should be emphasized that; there is a serious energy war in the background of the tension on the Belgrade-Pristina line on July 31, 2022. Shortly before the tension escalated, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic stated that natural gas reserves were at the highest level in the country’s history; Kosovo, on the other hand, signed a $236 million grant agreement with the US for the transition to renewable energy. This indicates that the energy preferences of countries will affect regional dynamics in the future. Bosnia and Herzegovina, on the other hand, is completely dependent on Russia in terms of natural gas. According to the picture that will emerge after the elections, the Serbian Entity may choose to make some agreements with Russia on energy.

[1] Mehmet Dalar, “Dayton Barış Antlaşması ve Bosna Hersek’in Geleceği”, Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Dergisi, 1(15), 2008, s. 99.

[2] “Dayton Agreement”, UN Peacemakers,, (Date of Accession: 17.08.2022).

[3] “Agreement on Civilian Implementation”, Office of High Representative (OHR),, (Date of Accession: 25.07.2022).

[4] Ferhan Oral, “Bosna-Hersek’in NATO Üyelik Süreci”, ANKASAM,, (Date of Accession: 26.07.2022).

[5] “Bosna’nın Yeni Yüksek Temsilcisi: Bosna Hersek’in Geleceği İçin Tüm Gücümle Çalışacağım”, TRT Haber,, (Date of Accession: 18.08.2022)

[6] Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina,, (Date of Accession: 18.08.2022).

[7] “Bosna Hersek’teki Seçimlerde Başkanlık Konseyi Üyeliği İçin 9 İsim Yarışacak”, Balkan News,, (Date of Accession: 20.08.2022).

[8] “HR Schmidt imposed Decision on Financing the Elections”, Sarajevo Times,, (Date of Accession:20.08.2022).

[9] “Bosna Hersek Liderlerin Seçim Yasasında Uzlaşmaları İçin Dört Hafta Kaldı”, (10 Ağustos 2022), Balkan News,, (Date of Accession: 20.08.2022).

Dr. Çağdaş DUMAN
Lisans ve Doktora eğitimlerini Ege Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler, yüksek lisans eğitimini ise yine aynı üniversitede Türk Tarihi bölümünde tamamlayan Dr. Çağdaş Duman, Doktora eğitiminin bir bölümünde Otto-Friedrich Bamberg Üniversitesi'nde akademik çalışmalar yürütmüştür. Duman'ın doktora derecesini almış olduğu "Politik Şokların Şiddet İçeren Aktörler Üzerindeki Dönüştürücü Etkisi: Lübnan Hizbullah'ı Örneği (2005 - 2020) " başlıklı tezi, Karadeniz Teknik Üniversitesi tarafından alanında yılın doktora tezi ödülüne layık görülmüştür. Akademik hayatı süresince pek çok ulusal ve uluslararası çalışmalara iştirak eden Duman, Ortadoğu ve Balkanlar üzerine çalışmalarına devam etmektedir.