The present report covers the period from 16 April to 15 October 2022.
The reporting period was dominated by the general elections on 2 October 2022. The political parties and relevant institutions focused on the preparations for and setting up of the elections, unfortunately partly by questioning their conduct and blocking their financing, as well as on the registration of parties and candidates and the election campaigns.
My activities had to be twofold: first, to guarantee that the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina could exercise their basic constitutional right to elect their representatives, and secondly, to ensure that the will of the voters would be implemented after the elections. Pursuant to the Election Law of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the responsible authorities were obliged to secure the funds needed for the conduct of the general elections within 15 days after the day of their announcement on 4 May 2022 by the Central Election Commission of Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, by early June, no agreement on funding for the elections had been found. A belated decision by the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina of 6 June did not allocate sufficient funding to the Central Election Commission. I therefore enacted on 7 June a package of decisions enabling the financing of the general elections of 2022, as well as future elections. Without this intervention, it would not have been possible to prepare for and conduct the general elections on 2 October.
In the exercise of the powers vested in the High Representative by annex 10 of the General Framework Agreement for Peace and bearing in mind the prominent role that elections play for the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina, I enacted amendments to the Election Law of Bosnia and Herzegovina on 27 July to bring it more in line with international standards and good practices. My intervention was guided by the need to prevent election fraud and to improve election transparency and relied extensively on a pending legislative proposal before the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I gave the Central Election Commission the means to sanction violations of the rules of conduct in the election campaign. As a result, the Commission was reinforced and the new rules were applied during the general elections.
On election day, a total of 90 parties, 38 coalitions and 17 independent candidates participated. Voter turnout was around 50 per cent, 4 per cent lower than in 2018. During the election campaign, which started on 2 September, the political debate focused on personalities and their affiliations and paid comparatively little attention to political platforms. Some parties and candidates continued to use nationalist and divisive rhetoric, although somewhat less than in previous campaigns. Whereas some parties were affiliated with a particular constituent people, others appealed to a mixed electorate.
In the Bosnia and Herzegovina entity of the Republika Srpska, the ruling Alliance of Independent Social Democrats created an atmosphere in which government critics and opposition politicians were often labelled as traitors and foreign agents. Compromising video footage and documents were used against political opponents during the campaign. In the entity of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the pre-election campaign was comparatively quiet, although polarization between Bosniak and Croat positions increased. As in previous elections, the media environment was fragmented along ethnic and political lines.
According to the preliminary results from the Central Election Commission, the opposition candidate Denis Bećirović (Social Democratic Party) was elected as the Bosniak member, the incumbent Željko Komšić (Democratic Front) was elected as the Croat member and Željka Cvijanović (Alliance of Independent Social Democrats) was elected as the Serb member of the three-member Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Many observers considered the defeat of Bakir Izetbegović, leader of the dominant Bosniak Party of Democratic Action, to be the biggest surprise of the elections. In the election for the President of the Republika Srpska, the preliminary results show a victory of incumbent Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency member Milorad Dodik (Alliance of Independent Social Democrats) over opposition candidate Jelena Trivić (Party of Democratic Progress). However, on 10 October, based on a review of material evidence suggesting irregularities and mathematical inconsistencies, the Central Election Commission of Bosnia and Herzegovina issued an order to the main counting centre to conduct a control count of all ballots from all polling stations for the positions of President and Vice-Presidents of the Republika Srpska. The control count commenced on 13 October and had not been completed at the time of the submission of the present report.
On 2 October, the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina also elected new parliamentary bodies: the House of Representatives of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the House of Representatives of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the National Assembly of the Republika Srpska and the 10 assemblies of the cantons of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The preliminary election results show some diversity, although no significant change. Parties with a clear ethnic affiliation were able to maintain their strong position in most parliaments of the country. In the three cantons with the largest Croat population, the Croat Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina kept its relative strength, while the Croat Democratic Union 1990 came in second among the Croat parties. According to the preliminary results, 11 parties passed the threshold to enter the National Assembly of the Republika Srpska, where Mr. Dodik’s Alliance of Independent Social Democrats remains the strongest party, with more than 35 per cent of the votes.
I deeply regret to inform the Security Council that in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Government from the 2014–2018 mandate is still in place owing to the failure of political leaders to appoint new authorities following the 2018 general elections. In the weeks before the elections, I underlined that in a democratic society, the will of the voters must be implemented and that I would not allow the political deadlock of 2018 to be repeated.
Political parties engaged over several months in a dialogue on electoral reform aiming at unblocking political deadlocks in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, facilitated by the United States of America and the European Union. The process ended without reaching a compromise solution.
In view of the failure of the dialogue process and given the high risk that the formation of institutions after the elections would once again be blocked, I enacted on 2 October the Decision Enacting Amendments to the Constitution of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Decision Enacting the Law on Amendments to the Election Law of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This so-called functionality package contains a set of measures that allow the rapid establishment of legislative, executive and judicial bodies after the elections. In order to respect the decision of the voters, I published these decisions after the closure of the polling stations and before the announcement of the first preliminary election results. Neither decision affects the counting of the votes.
I increased the size of the House of Peoples of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina to allow a distribution of seats that corrects the overrepresentation of all three constituent peoples in some cantons, but also to allow, for the first time, Others (i.e. those who are not from the three constituent peoples) from all cantons to be represented in the House of Peoples. An element of this measure is the timely election of delegates to the House of Peoples by the cantonal assemblies. I also introduced measures to improve the expediency of the process for the nomination of the President and Vice-Presidents of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Apart from addressing the formation of the legislative and executive authorities, I introduced unblocking mechanisms to safeguard the functioning of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina by simplifying procedures and by introducing deadlines and consequences for ignoring the deadlines. Specifically, I expedited parliamentary decision-making by obliging both houses to cooperate and consider acts within a deadline. For reasons of expediency and to prevent abuse, I limited the range of issues on which a vital national interest can be invoked. However, the implementation of the judgments by the European Court of Human Rights in the Sejdić-Finci group of cases and the functional discrepancy of the House of Peoples of the Federation (being at the same time a general legislative second chamber and a representative body of the three constituent peoples and the Others) are beyond the scope of this decision and must be addressed by national actors in a political process.
Furthermore, my measures facilitate the appointment of judges to the Constitutional Court of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its Vital National Interest Panel, including those currently pending, but also limit the representation of constituent peoples in key executive and legislative positions in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Lastly, I obliged the parliamentary bodies of the Federation to solicit citizen participation, including from youth, to encourage a more responsive and accessible legislative process.
In the reporting period, the authorities of the Republika Srpska continued to undermine the State institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina by obstructing their work and decision-making, as well as by claiming constitutional and legal competences of the State for the Republika Srpska. These actions were often accompanied by secessionist rhetoric. Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency member and leader of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, Milorad Dodik, in particular continued to challenge the fundamentals of the General Framework Agreement for Peace.
Apart from the positive developments in the Brčko District and an important decision taken by the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina on 22 September to repeal the Law on Immovable Property Used for the Functioning of the Public Authority of the Republika Srpska, little progress has been made in the implementation of the 5 plus 2 agenda. When it comes to the fiscal sustainability of the State, I wish to highlight that the Republika Srpska continued to use the uncertainty and inadequacy of the financing of State institutions as an instrument to undermine the functionality of the State of Bosnia and Herzegovina. With regard to state and defence property, the rule of law and fiscal sustainability, Bosnia and Herzegovina still faces considerable challenges.
As for the economy, the preliminary indicators for 2022 show some positive trends, although they do not necessarily imply improved levels of economic and social development. The registered unemployment level is close to 30 per cent, while the share of unemployed youth in total unemployment is over 18 per cent. The average salary and pension are significantly below the average price of the basket of goods, suggesting that even those with steady incomes struggle to make ends meet. Pensioners are particularly vulnerable: about 60 per cent, or about 421,000 persons, receive the minimum pensions and survive on between 8 and 14 marka (KM) a day.
Economic and social challenges and widespread nepotism and corruption have had serious consequences for Bosnia and Herzegovina. The outflow of youth is among the most serious of the problems. Although there is no precise data on how many young people have left the country in recent years, there are estimates that nearly half a million people have left Bosnia and Herzegovina in the past 10 years. About 170,000 persons left Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2021, while 350,000 persons are expected to leave in 2022.
It remains to be seen if the general elections of 2 October have brought a fundamental change in the participation of women in political life in Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to some estimates, women made up less than 25 per cent of the membership of parliaments at the State and entity levels in the previous mandate, while their number in the executive authorities was even more discouraging. At the local level, of all mayors elected in the local elections in 2020, only 4 per cent were women. Gender equality remains generally a significant challenge.
A clear majority of the population continues to support the European Union integration of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I welcome the recommendation of the European Commission to the European Council that Bosnia and Herzegovina be granted candidate status in the European Union. This clear signal of prospective European Union integration for Bosnia and Herzegovina is especially important now, when international law is being trampled and principles such as sovereignty and territorial integrity are being questioned or violated. I am committed to working with the authorities, institutions and citizens to set the country on the irreversible path of progress that would turn this vision into a reality.
Given the current political situation, I recommend increased engagement by the international community to ensure full compliance with the General Framework Agreement for Peace and allow for critical reforms. In this regard, the European Union military operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina (EUFOR-Althea) continues to play a vital role in safeguarding peace and security in Bosnia and Herzegovina, enabling my Office and many other international organizations to fulfil our respective mandates. The presence of EUFOR-Althea in Bosnia and Herzegovina remains indispensable.