Bosnia and Herzegovina was the most ethnically mixed of the six republics of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. During the 1992-95 war over 200 000 people were killed, more than 200 000 wounded and 13 000 permanently disabled. Deaths and casualties have continued to occur after the war due to the nearly four million landmines and unexploded ordnance left after the war. The war not only caused the greatest number of refugees in Europe (1.3 million) but also suffered the most internal displacement since WWII. Of Bosnia’s population of 4.4 million people, 2.5 million have been displaced. “Ethnic cleansing” was used to create territories that were either under ethnic majority control or, if possible, ethnically pure. During and immediately after the war, those uprooted from their homes relocated to areas in which they belonged to the ethnic majority. The war ended with the signing of the General Framework Agreement for peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995.
Since 1995, the international community has been an active player in all areas of Bosnian political, social and economic life. Although the elections were organised by BiH authorities the elections took place in a unique legal context in which the ultimate authority still rests with the international community. The key international actors in BiH are most importantly the Office of the High Representative (OHR), Stabilisation Force (SFOR), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina (UNMiB), the OSCE, the European Union, Council of Europe, World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and a number of NGOs.
In this setting the elections were characterised by a broad and active campaign including 57 political parties, nine coalitions, and three independent candidates. All in all 7.537 candidates were certified. 27 Federation-based parties ran in the Republika Srpska and 12 Republika Srpska parties ran in the Federation, representing a certain amount of cross-entity campaigning.
There were over 10 million ballots and 40 different ballot types. In each polling station (PS) the voters had to mark four ballot papers – or three or five as exceptions – in 23 different combinations country-wide.
BiH has a unique constitutional framework and a complex electoral system. Within this system the principal operating parties are:
The leading nationalist Bosniak party Stranka za Demokratske Akcije or Party for Democratic Action (SDA), founded in 1990 by Alija Izetbegovic and Haris Silajdzic. The party advocates political and economic unity, state building, return of refugees/IDPs and cultural autonomy for the ethnic groups. Sulejman Tihic was presidential candidate.
A party ideologically close to SDA is Stranka za Bosnu I Hercegovinu or Party of BiH (SBiH), but SBiH has a stronger urban support. Even though the leader is Safet Halilovic, the party revolves around its founder Haris Silajdzic, who is also the co-founder of SDA and the Prime Minister under Ajila Izetbegovic.
The Socialdemokratska Partija/Social Democratic Party (SDP) is a multi-ethnic political party, with a majority of Bosniak members and leaders. SDP was founded in 1998 as the successor to the BiH League of Communists.
The leading Croat party is Hrvatski Demokratska Zajednica or Croat Democratic Union (HDZ-BiH). It was founded before the 1990 elections as a branch of the Zagreb-based HDZ, led by Franjo Tudjman. HDZ is the Bosnian wing, now officially independent from the Croatian “mother party”, but unofficial ties are close. Its presidential candidate was Dragan Covic. HDZ program focuses on protection of Croat national interests, Croat self-determination and maintenance of homogeneous Croat territories. In 2001, HDZ voted for a separation from the Federation and the establishment of parallel intra-cantonal and inter-municipal councils as a form of Croat self-government. Following this, the party boycotted the Federation and State bodies. This move was not welcomed by the international community and the High Representative removed the Croat member of the BiH Presidency and the HDZ leader. For these elections, HDZ reformed its leadership and was again certified for the electoral process.
In Republika Srpska the dominant party is primary the leading Serb nationalist party, the Srpska Demokratska Stranka or the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) established in 1990. One of its co-founders is Radovan Karadzic. The SDS program has traditionally been nationalist, obstructionist to encroachment of BiH State institutions and return of minorities, and advocated sovereignty of the Republika Srpska, if not independence or union with Serbia. Before the elections, however, SDS presented itself as in favour of the Dayton Peace Agreement. Their BiH presidential candidate was Mirko Sarovic. Even though SDS received most votes in the Republika Srpska General Assembly elections in 2000, it did not receive the majority. The international community, already tired of the SDS obstructionism, declared that any government with SDS would not receive international aid.
The more moderate Stranka Nezavisnih Social-Demokrata or Party of the Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) is a western-oriented party and focus on cooperation with parties of other ethnic groups. It is the second largest party in Republika Srpska since it merged with the Democratic Socialist party in 2002. The leader is Milorad Dodik, which was Prime Minister from 1998-2000.
The relatively moderate party Partija Demokratskoga Progresa or Party of Democratic Progress (PDP) led by Mladen Ivanic receives international support. Unofficially the party cooperated with the nationalistic SDS in the former Republika Srpska National Assembly, but officially Ivanic had no SDS members in his government in accordance with international demand.
The main nationalistic parties (SDA, SDS, and HDZ) obtained a large part of the votes in the 2000 elections, but due to substantial international pressure a moderate 10-party governing coalition called “Alliance for Change” was formed at state and federation level. This increased the votes for the more moderate SDP and the urban SBIH and smaller parties at the state and entity levels. The Alliance made progress on a number of institutional reforms, but suffered criticism for falling short of expectations. Unemployment is still high, the economic reform is lacking behind.