Bosnian leadership takes shape, pledging reform

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 09, 2014 11:14 AM

By Daria Sito-Sucic

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - A political bloc in Bosnia edged towards a new national government on Tuesday committed to a raft of reforms backed by the European Union in an effort to unblock the country's stalled bid to join the bloc.

A national government has yet to be formed since an October election, but the inaugural session of the new lower house of parliament on Tuesday saw the emergence of a majority seen as backing a German-British initiative to spur economic reform and unlock EU funds.

Significantly, the largest ethnic Serb party of Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik was left heading for the opposition benches for the first time in nearly a decade, as lawmakers elected a speaker and his deputies. The party, which says it would rather see Bosnia dissolve, has for years been accused of blocking reforms at the national level.

"I want this parliament composition to make a major contribution to the stabilization of the political scene in Bosnia, to unblock the process of integration so as to boost economic development and employment," said speaker Sefik Dzaferovic, elected from the ranks of Bosnia's largest party representing the Muslim Bosniak community -- the SDA.

Dzaferovic's election indicated a government deal was near, based on a reform program agreed between the SDA, the moderate Democratic Front and a bloc of smaller Bosnian Serb parties. The HDZ party, the largest representing the Bosnian Croats, also indicated it would support the government, isolating Dodik.

Bosnia's complex political system is a legacy of its 1992-95 war, ended by a U.S.-brokered peace deal that split power along ethnic lines.

The unwieldy system has slowed reform, stifled economic development and left Bosnia trailing its ex-Yugoslav peers on the road to membership of the EU.

The German-British plan seeks to use the October elections as an opportunity to regain momentum by dangling the carrot of EU cash and putting economics before political reform.

Dzaferovic said the government may be formed in January, and that the SDA would supply the prime minister. It could yet become bogged down in political wrangling over the formation of governments at other layers of Bosnia's power system.

(Editing by Matt Robinson and Crispian Balmer)