BiH delays elections in the 'divided city'


Two-thirds of Mostar's citizens want their city unified, but politicians have slowed the process.

By Anes Alic for Southeast European Times in Mostar -- 16/07/12


Mostar's ethnic division is expected to result in institutional crisis by year's end. [Bedrana Kaletovic/SETimes]

Bosnia and Herzegovina's central electoral commission postponed October's elections in Mostar until the ruling Bosniak Party of Democratic Action and the Croatian Democratic Union reform electoral law to ensure proportional representation.

BiH's constitutional court ruled last June that electing three delegates each from the city's six electoral districts to the city council is unconstitutional.

According to the statute in force, the same number of delegates can be elected from an area with 30,000 residents as from one with 7,000 residents. The court reasoned the number of deputies from the districts is not proportionate to the number of voters and ordered electoral changes within six months.

Croat voters outnumber Bosniaks by 12,000 in Mostar. Seventeen years after the end of the 1992-95 war, the city is ethnically divided into a Croat-dominated western and a Bosniak-dominated eastern part.

Mostar has two electricity companies, two telephone networks, two postal services, two gas utility services and two universities. Croat and Bosniak pupils attend separate classes, learn from different textbooks and often engage in violence at sporting events.

The ethnic divide has translated into an institutional one, causing a political dead end in which neither of the two ruling parties is willing to compromise because they would risk losing the nationalist-based vote.

In 2004, the high representative, Paddy Ashdown, abolished what were Mostar's six municipalities and replaced them with electoral districts. The move resulted in creating a single administration, but it did not succeed in bringing about ethnic coexistence or bridging the institutional divide.

Marinko Gilja, a Croat president of the city council, said Mostar is the only large city in BiH where the Croats constitute a majority but are unable to use it to their advantage.

"[The politicians] reached a deadlock. I believe that this problem has to be solved by the international community, which, in fact, created the statute," Gilja told SETimes.

Since 2004, the international community has played an advisory role in the Mostar statute talks and so far has given no indications that it would impose a solution again. Foreign diplomats have said Mostar will most likely not have local government this fall until mandates of the current mayor and city councilors expire in November.

The outgoing councilors, however, will not have the authority to pass the budget for fiscal year 2013 -- close to 30m euro -- depriving the city's institutions with the funds necessary to operate.

The moderate Social Democratic Party (SDP) said while the court's ruling must be implemented, it opposes a new statute that would re-establish ethnically cleansed municipalities.

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SDP's Mostar representative Aner Zuljevic said his party would propose a different version of the statute that would keep the existing electoral units but enable one member from each ethnic group to be elected to the city council.

"If we keep the current political deadlock or return to the ethnic municipalities, all progress achieved since the end of the war will be annulled," Zuljevic said.

Polls indicate two-thirds of citizens agree and want their city unified. Many say Mostar is held hostage by two political parties that have managed to rule the city continuously for two decades to benefit from double administration largesse.

"I am in a mixed-marriage and could not isolate myself from my wife and children," Jozo Tadic, who lives in Mostar's western part, told SETimes. "We [Bosniaks and Croats] have lived with each other for decades, and if the politicians do not want to live together, they do not have to, but there is no excuse for the citizens."

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