The iconic Old Bridge in the divided city of Mostar. Following this year’s local elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mostar will hold local elections for the first time since 2008. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Mhare (CC BY-SA 2.5)
Freedom House Rating
November 15, 2020
Local Elections in Mostar
December 20, 2020
October 2022 (due)
October 7, 2018
October 2, 2016
Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is scheduled to hold local elections on November 15, 2020. Voters will elect mayors and councils in 143 municipalities. The elections were originally scheduled for October, but were pushed back a month due to delays in approving the state budget. Additionally, the city of Mostar will hold local elections on December 20, 2020 for the first time since 2008. Voters will choose mayors plus town and municipal councils.
The Dayton Accords, which ended the 1992-1995 Bosnian War (one of the conflicts surrounding the breakup of Yugoslavia), established a byzantine government and political system in BiH. As Franco Galdini notes, “With a population of 3.8 million people, BiH has three presidents, 13 prime ministers and as many governments, more than 180 ministers, and over 700 members of parliament.” Each of the country’s three ethnic groups – mostly Muslim Bosniaks, mostly Orthodox Serbs, and mostly Catholic Croats – has a representative on the presidency. The country is divided into two entities, the Republika Srpska (RS) and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH), each of which has its own government (and FBiH is further divided into 10 cantons with their own governments and prime ministers).
Politics are gridlocked. Following the October 2018 general election – in which voters elected (get ready for it) the three national presidents, the national legislature, and the presidents and legislatures of RS an FBiH, plus the legislatures of FBiH’s 10 cantons – it took more than a year to form a government.
Ethno-nationalism fuels much of the gridlock. For example, Milorad Dodik, who holds the Serb seat on the presidency and for a long time served as president of the RS, has openly called for RS to secede from BiH, and his party’s opposition to NATO membership was another stumbling block to forming a government last year. Russia is stoking ethnic divisions, seeking to divide and weaken BiH (and other states in the Western Balkans) and slow the path toward Euro-Atlantic integration.
Corruption remains a major problem. In the same vein, elections tend to feature significant irregularities.
BiH’s political system entrenches ethnic-based political parties, but some smaller multi-ethnic parties are beginning to emerge. The major parties are ethno-nationalist: the Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA), the Croat Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ-BiH), and the Serb Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD).
Ideologically, SDA and HDZ are affiliated with the center-right European People’s Party and the International Democrat Union (the center-right global alliance of political parties founded by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Helmut Kohl). HDZ also has strong links to Croatia, and SDA has long-standing links to Turkey. In contrast, SNSD espouses left-wing economics paired with social conservatism. Moreover, the party has links to Vladimir Putin’s United Russia and cooperates with various pro-Moscow parties in the region.
In the 2018 elections, SDA’s Šefik Džaferović won the Bosniak seat on the presidency, and SNSD’s Milorad Dodik won the Serb seat. However, for the Croat seat, Željko Komšić from the center-left Democratic Front defeated HDZ’s candidate.
In the upcoming elections, voters will elect mayors and councils in 143 municipalities across both the RS and FBiH. Mostar, a city divided between Bosniaks and Croats in Croat-dominated Herzegovina, will hold municipal elections for the first time ever since 2008. In fact, Mostar has had no city council for the last seven years, which has been a disaster for citizens because basic municipal services aren’t being provided. For example, trash is piling up because there is no functional garbage collection system.
Politics and geopolitics are linked in BiH, and – like the rest of the Western Balkans region – the country is the site of geopolitical competition between Russia and the West. In 2018, NATO began a Membership Action Plan for BiH. Serb president Dodik opposes the move, but the Bosnian and Croat presidents both support NATO membership. Similarly, BiH has applied to join the EU, but a number of obstacles remain to completing the accession process.
Danijel Kovacevic, Balkan Insight (October 8, 2020): Serbian Party Banned from Bosnian Election Over ‘Hateful’ Video
Aleksandar Brezar, Euronews (October 2, 2020): Inside Mostar, the Bosnian city that hasn’t had a local election in 12 years
Harun Karčić, RUSI (October 2, 2020): A Nagorno-Karabakh Scenario in the Balkans?
Nedim Dervisbegovic, Balkan Insight (July 29, 2020): Bosnia Adopts Budget, Opening Way for Local Elections
Reuters (July 23, 2020): Bosnia’s city of Mostar to hold election on December 20 after 12 years
Srecko Latal, Balkan Insight (January 15, 2020): Still Recovering From 2018 Election, Bosnia Faces Another in 2020
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Updated October 8, 2020