AIM: start

THU, 02 MAY 2002 23:33:39 GMT

Pre-election Poll: Petrifaction of Ethnic Divisions?

AIM Banja Luka, April 29, 2002

In the middle of February, on the territory of Bosnia & Herzegovina, American National Democratic Institute (NDI) carried out a general public opinion poll designed to evaluate the stands of the citizens concerning the forthcoming general elections scheduled to take place in October. The investigation involved 3,700 citizens, 200 from each of the 12 electoral districts in B&H Federation (FBIH) and of 6 electoral districts of Republika Srpska (RS), and 100 subjects from the territory of Brcko District. The project of this investigation did not include the citizens of B&H who have the right to vote but live abroad (mostly as refugees and displaced persons) the number of whom according to official estimates reaches about 240 thousand.

Judging by the results, the biggest surprise of the investigation is the fact that 90 per cent of the subjects intend to go to the polls. If this result reflects the intention of the total electorate in B&H, a record number of the citizens of B&H will vote in October elections, which might have double meaning. First, it might reflect the decisive intention of ethnic communities to petrify the divisions, or, second, the resoluteness to punish the ruling elite for the catastrophic economic policy, unemployment and metastasis of corruption. In view of the general results of the poll, the first possibility is more probable.

The three major ethnic groups (the Bosniacs, the Serbs and the Croats) expressed their devotedness to ethnic divisions in their answers to the question on the importance of the level of the elections. For the Bosniacs, the elections for the Presidency of B&H and the state parliament were the most important ones, while for the Serbs the elections for the People’s Assembly of RS and the president and vice-president were of major importance. The Croats also consider the elections for the parliament of B&H Federation and the Presidency of B&H the most important ones, but not those for the state parliament.

In making the choice among four offered answers to the following questions: “What is most important for you when you consider which party or politician you might vote for?”, 63 per cent of the subjects, regardless of ethnic affiliation, selected the party or politician capable of improving the quality of their lives. However, the answer that ranked second revealed the differences that are a postwar constant. For 31 per cent of the Bosniacs, it is of major significance that a politician or a party protect and strengthen B&H as a state, 19 per cent of the Serbs believe that the most important thing is if a politician or a party strengthens and protects the entity they live in, and 24 per cent of Bosnian Croats rank the question of protections and promotion of their ethnic interests the highest.

Inclination towards ethnic options was also manifested in the answers of the subjects to the following question: “If the elections were tomorrow, what party would you vote for?” In the election of a member of Presidency of B&H, the biggest number of the voters of Serb ethnic origin (45 per cent) would give their votes to a candidate of the Serb Democratic Party (SDS), 16 per cent to a candidate of the Party of Democratic Progress (PDP), and 15 per cent to a candidate of the Party of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD). For this level of the elections, the largest number of Bosniac voters (37 per cent) would vote for the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) and 21 per cent of them for the Party for B&H. If one has in mind the ideological closeness between the SDA and Party for B&H, it is clear that the majority of the Bosniac electorate is also in favour of rightist parties. The Croat electorate is also still faithful to its ethnic parties: 67 per cent of them would vote in favour of HDZ, and New Croat Initiative and Croat Party of Right would get an equal number of 7 per cent of the votes each.

The inclination towards ethnic parties is also quite clear from the results of the poll on other levels of the elections. In the Serb part of the electorate SDS has the support of 43 per cent of the voters in the elections for the parliament of B&H and 40 per cent both in the elections for the deputies of the People’s Assembly of RS and president and vice-president of RS. Among Bosnian Croats HDZ has the support of 60 per cent of the voters when the parliament of B&H is concerned, while 36 per cent of the Bosniacs would choose SDP. Among the Bosniacs, SDA and Party for B&H rank second and third with 31 and 19 per cent of votes, respectively.

In comparison with the elections in 2000, it is evident that the voters are turning towards big parties and that minor parties are losing support. SDS, PDP and SNSD have bigger support than in previous elections. In B&H Federation, the support SDP has increased by 7 per cent, while the popularity of SDA, Party for B&H and HDZ has insignificantly gone down.

The presented NDI’s investigation took place before the debate on Constitutional amendments got into full swing provoking an increase of national passions and decisive ethnic homogenization, according to many analysts. This is illustrated by the facts that SDA and HDZ have abandoned political negotiations on Constitutional amendments, while political parties from RS, the ones in power and the opposition, were united in the defence of entity jurisdiction and the existing Constitutional status.

The actual choice of the voters and the relevant measure of the support of the voters to political parties will be shown by the investigation NDI is announcing for the month of June. The election campaign that is gaining momentum will additionally orientate the choice of the electorate. It is possible to expect that political marketing in B&H Federation will be focused on the promotion of new Constitutional amendments which will announce a new limitation of the jurisdiction of entities and strengthening of the central state that will further homogenize ethnic parties. It is hard to believe that political parties will take care about the frustrations of the electorate of the others and be wise enough to build their promotion on different principles. Should they take this road, B&H could become a paradigm of petrified ethnic divisions.

Branko Peric