Parliament rejects centralization
April 26, 2006 7:30 PM
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina-Bosnian lawmakers on Wednesday rejected
proposed constitutional changes aimed at erasing some of the ethnic divisions
that resulted from the country's 1992-95 civil war.
The amendments would have replaced Bosnia's three-member presidency
with a single president and strengthened the central government, which
has held little authority since the accord that ended the war divided the
territory into two, largely autonomous ethnic mini-states.
Bosnia's leaders have been under international pressure to return power
to a streamlined central government as a way to unify the country and further
integrate it into the rest of Europe. The European Union has told the country
it has virtually no chance of future membership in the bloc with its current
Foreign Minister Mladen Ivanic said the outcome would hurt the country's
international position and forecast that any new attempt to push through
similar changes to the country's charter would be far off.
"Several years will be necessary in order to launch new talks on constitutional
changes and reach a new compromise," Ivanic said.
The proposed changes, which the country's six leading political parties
had been negotiating for 10 months, failed to get the necessary backing
of two-thirds of Parliament.
Some of those who opposed to the amendments said they did not go far
enough in handing power back to central authorities in Sarajevo.
In particular, some felt more should be done to limit lawmakers in the
national Parliament from voting along ethnic lines. The proposed changes,
however, left unchanged Parliament's current division into voting blocs
made up of delegates from the two mini-states.
To end the bloodiest war in Europe since World War II, the Dayton peace
accord carved the country into two mini-states, one for the Bosnian Serbs,
the other shared by Bosnia's Muslims and Croats. Each has its own local
president and legislature.
Under the postwar constitution that emerged from the accord, the two
states have been loosely linked by joint institutions at a national level
such as the cumbersome three-person presidency whose representatives come
from the three major ethnic groups.
The separate states have also had their own police forces, and efforts
to unite them under one command have been tough.
Bosnian leaders pledged in talks in Washington with U.S. Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice in November, on the 10th anniversary of the Dayton
Peace Agreement, to pursue changes to the constitution needed to bring
the country's two ethnic republics closer together.
U.S. Ambassador Douglas McElhaney left Wednesday's parliament session
after the vote saying, "On behalf of the United States government, I would
like to stress my profound disappointment to the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina."
Christian Schwarz Schilling, Bosnia's top international administrator,
said before the vote that if the changes were rejected, "the rest of the
international community will ask themselves why Bosnia-Herzegovina is not
willing to move forward."
The war erupted after Bosnian Serbs rebelled against Bosnia's secession
from Yugoslavia and began grabbing territory in central Bosnia from Muslims
and Croats in the hope of attaching it to a greater Serb Republic. The
conflict also drew in troops from Croatia.
Tens of thousands of people were killed and half of the population became
With the rejection of the changes, it was unclear what would happen
to the proposal or if it would be revised and submitted for another vote.