Divided Mostar left without local government


Most officials have informally extended their own mandates to keep basic services available.

By Anes Alic for Southeast European Times in Mostar -- 19/11/12


Power in the deeply segregated city of Mostar has been split since 1995. [AFP]

The ethnically divided city of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) continues to operate without an elected local government after citizens were kept from the polls in October as a result of a political dispute over the voting system.

The local government's mandate expired in November, and the political situation in this divided city is about to get more complicated.

In 2010 and in early 2012, the Bosnian Constitutional Court issued two rulings ordering changes to the electoral system in Mostar. Those changes would have given equal rights to all voters.

The court found the City Council election unconstitutional because the numbers of deputies from six city districts were not proportionate to the number of voters in those districts. The current statute stipulates that an area of the city with a population of almost 30,000 residents can elect the same number of delegates to the City Council as an area with only 7,000 residents.

Since the end of the war in 1995, power has mostly been shared between two ethnically-based parties, the Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA) and the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). The HDZ is calling for the implementation of the court's ruling. The SDA is opposed to the ruling, claiming it would lead to majority Croat rule in the city as Croat voters outnumber Bosniaks by 12,000.

Haris Idriz from the NGO Mostar Youth Council told SETimes that the two parties have caused a political deadlock, and neither is willing to compromise.

"This situation could last for a decade, but this would mean no progress at all. I believe that the two parties are waiting for the international community to step in again. This way, whichever ethnic group loses, they [the international community] will take the blame."

Local NGOs held informal elections on the streets in lieu of the official October poll, allowing citizens to cast their votes and express their disillusionment with the government.

Mostar resident Ismet Penava participated in the informal voting on October 7th, and took his grandson with him. "I wrote 'shame on you' on my ballot. These politicians do not deserve to rule this beautiful city and to lead us and our future generations," Penava told SETimes.

After years of similar political deadlock, the statute was imposed in January 2004 by decree of the international community's then-High Representative, Paddy Ashdown. The 2004 decree abolished the six municipalities and replaced them with six electoral units.

Since then, the international community has played an advisory role in the Mostar statute talks. So far it has given no indications that it plans to interfere.

The past few months have seen the international community initiate a series of meetings with Bosnian officials and it is clear that a solution will have to be made locally.

In the meantime, the mandates of the Mostar City Council and the mayor have expired. According to City Council President Murat Coric, Mostar officials have taken it upon themselves to informally extend their own mandates in order to pass the budget and keep the city's institutions running.

"We are going to continue to work until some relevant body considers we should stop, but it is still unclear who is going to replace us and when the elections will take place. This is the political reality, and we have to improvise to keep the city running until a solution is found," Coric told SETimes.

Social Democratic Party (SDP) Mostar branch President Aner Zuljevic said that the HDZ and SDA have lost credibility and that both are effectively holding the citizens of Mostar hostage.

"A year ago, the SDP proposed a different version of the statute, which would keep the existing electoral units but would enable one member of each ethnic group to be elected to the City Council. Our proposal is not suitable to either of the two main parties, but it is part of the ongoing negotiations," Zuljevic told SETimes.

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According to Zuljevic, the SDP is not going to accept any solution for Mostar that will maintain ethnic divisions in the city. Even though no solution can be passed without approval from the HDZ and SDA, the moderate SDP could easily block any other solution as the statute must be passed in the federal parliament, where the SDP has a majority.

Mostar is ethnically divided on every level. It has two electricity companies, two telephone networks, two postal services, two gas utility services and two universities. All attempts to unify the city's double administration have failed.

Idriz claims that the two parties ruling in Mostar are deliberately causing ethnic divisions and political stalemate in an opportunistic attempt to remain in power.

"From what can be seen in media, it looks like Mostar is still a war zone. But according to recent polls, some 75 percent of Mostarians would like to see their city unified. Contrary to what the media reports, youth of all ethnicities are mixing, co-operating and waiting for the opportunity to take over the city's future," Idriz said.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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