After the Bosnian elections: Dodik’s uncertain future

After the Bosnian elections: Dodik’s uncertain future

Bosnia voted on its new political elite on Oct. 12. In addition to the country’s chronic problems that are mostly the result of the Dayton Peace Accords, last year’s mass protests and the economic crisis made these elections vital for the country’s future.

Beyond those issues, the political future of separatist Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik was another important question that arose before the elections. Official results show that votes for Dodik have decreased and that the separatist rhetoric employed by him and his SNSD party is not being received as favorably by Bosnian Serbs as it had been in the past.

The changing position of Serbia

Amid criticism directed at him before Bosnia’s general elections, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic had stated that Serbia would not interfere with Bosnia’s electoral will. “The Republika Srpska [RS] is the key for Bosnia-Serbia Relations and permanent peace in the region,” he added.

Distinct from previous governments, Vucic’s administration adopted a new policy regarding the RS, ending the vague position Serbia had afforded it in Serbia-Bosnia relations.

After the victory of the Progressives in Serbia’s snap elections in March, Vucic made his first official visit to Bosnia and the RS’s capital of Banja Luka, telling the press that while Serbia loves the RS, it respects Bosnia’s territorial integrity even more. This statement was the first sign of Serbia’s changing policy under Vucic’s rule.

Vucic also stated that Serbia supports the RS and will continue to do so in the future. “Serbia will always protect the stability of the RS within the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” he said.

It can be said that the changing policy of the Vucic government is a clear monument to Serbia’s EU integration process. The EU wants Serbia to stabilize relations with its neighboring countries according to the “good neighbor” criterion of membership.

To this end, the Vucic government, as well as the previous government of Serbia, whose EU process was orchestrated by Vucic as foreign minister, even sacrificed its traditional policy on Kosovo. Last December, Serbia and Kosovo completed talks in Brussels, after which Serbia was granted the status of EU candidate country in January 2014. Through this action it can be seen how Serbia under Vucic doesn’t want to put its EU candidacy at risk because of the RS and its separatist leader Dodik.

Decreasing support for Dodik

Dodik won the presidential race in the Bosnian general elections held on Oct. 12 with 45.22 percent of the vote, just ahead of Ognjen Tadic from the Alliance for Change with 44.19 percent.

In the 2010 general elections, Dodik received 50.52 percent of the vote while his main opponent, Tadic, received only 35 percent.

Despite winning the presidential race, Dodik lost a number of votes compared to the previous elections, and his party could not maintain its majority in parliament.

Additionally, Dodik’s candidate for Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, Zeljka Cvijanovic, did not manage to defeat Mladen Ivanic from the PDP-RS.

Although Dodik may have been elected president at the entity level, he has lost the power to actively pursue his separatist vision for the RS as he did in the past.

Dodik has been known to consistently employ separatist rhetoric in every crisis and in response to every problem, whether it is in the country or the wider region. For instance, he most recently stated that the mass protests witnessed last year in Bosnia were an obvious sign of the country’s need to disband, saying to Serbia’s public broadcaster RTS that “the protests show that Bosnia needs to dissolve”.

Official election results show that Dodik will have no voice in the country’s tripartite presidency and that his party will have to make a coalition with other parties in parliament. Therefore, Dodik will now have to change his policies and soften his political discourse. Many experts say that Dodik’s position is uncertain, and it seems that he has lost both his political ground and the support of his big brother country, Serbia.

In the context of maintaining peace, this major decrease in Dodik’s votes and his isolation in the region could be seen a good sign for Bosnia, as his irrational policies and statements on the (dis)unity of the country have long been one of the biggest threats facing Bosnia and the region.

The process of forming a government will take a long time in this, one of the world’s most complicated state systems, the composition of which is divided between ethnic Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. In the new political equation, we will see how Dodik positions himself and his party.

* Hamdi Fırat Büyük is a researcher with the Centre for European Studies, Balkans Section (USAK).