February 23, 2018 / 6:06 PM / in 8 months

Ethnically tinged row over voting rules threatens governance in Bosnia

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bosnia will not be able to form governments after the October general election unless the national parliament resolves an ethnically-charged dispute over proposed changes to the election law, a senior election official said on Friday.

The Balkan country plans presidential and parliamentary elections in October but nationalist-minded political parties are deadlocked over amendments to the law pertaining to voting for one of Bosnia’s two regional assemblies.

The issue has become a hot political topic in Bosnia over the past year, creating a rift in the ruling Bosniak-Croat coalition both at the national level and in Bosnia’s Federation, the autonomous region in which the two peoples have uneasily shared power under Bosnia’s 1995 peace accord.

“I call on the parties...to agree on the provisions missing from the election law and enable the Central Election Commission (CIK) to conduct the election in 2018,” CIK President Irena Hadziabdic said at a news conference.

“The (next) government will not be formed unless we know the number of delegates that we are electing and the rules for their election.”

Responding to a Croat nationalist appeal, Bosnia’s Constitutional Court ruled in 2016 that candidates elected to the Federation assembly’s upper house should come from the main ethnically-based parties that draw the support of most Croats.

Last year Croat parties proposed amendments which envisage new, ethnically-based electoral districts where people would vote only for their own community’s representatives at all levels of governance including the presidency.

Croat nationalists say they want to prevent Muslim Bosniaks, the majority group in the Federation, from bringing about the election of Croats of civic, non-nationalist persuasion they see as not serving the best interests of Bosnian Croats.

But critics, including the largest Muslim Bosniak party SDA, rejected the Croat proposals for fear they could be a manoeuvre to forge a separatist Croat entity reminiscent of Bosnia’s devastating 1992-95 war.

The conflict, in which Bosnian Croats and Serbs fought to carve out ethnic statelets and drove out rival communities, mainly Bosnian Muslims, to that end, left 100,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands homeless.

The Dayton peace deal granted Serbs their own autonomous entity within Bosnia based largely on territory they seized, while Bosniaks and Croats were granted a federation.

To help resolve the new dispute, Western envoys have been mediating talks between the parties but without result.

“I would find it extremely risky to go for elections not knowing how to implement election results,” Thomas Greminger, secretary general of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said this week in Sarajevo.

Additional reporting by Maja Zuvela; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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