Coordinated by Gheorghe STOICA

Consociation in Bosnia and Herzegovina:

Practical Implementation of the Theoretical Principles



University of Sarajevo



University of Sarajevo



Abstract: Bosnia and Herzegovina, as a (post)conflict society, is based on minimum consensus which equals “consent to peace” where most citizens and political elites refuse the necessary improvement of the existing system. The principle of belonging to a certain ethnic group dominates in a divided society, thus becoming the base for political organisation. In a consociational democracy, political competition does not take place between ethnic groups, but within each ethnic group, while the decision-making process is shifted to a close circle of political elites, primarily in the circle of ethnic group leaders. The problem of building a sustainable and functional state is recognised, principally, with the fact that the consociational democracy in BiH is reduced to the preservation of peace, without standing a chance that at a certain point it would turn to a classic democratic system. 

Keywords:  consociational democracy, minimum consensus, grand coalition, political parties, ethnic groups.




Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is an example of a complex political system, which is the result of an extremely divided society and a constitutional framework that maintains a state of fragmentation. The constitutional system follows a “power-sharing” model in which the collective rights of three dominant ethnic groups (constituent peoples) take precedence over the rights of the individual/citizen. Belonging to an ethnic group became the foundation of political interest, and national[1] political parties are seen as the only legitimate representatives of each group, which along with violent the territorialisation of the ethnic element[2] results in leading the politics only within each ethnic group/constituent peoples. The consequence of such a policy is that “joint” decision-making at the state level is shifted outside of the envisaged constitutional institutions and limits itself to inter-party negotiations, cooperation and collusion of political leaders as “exclusive” representatives of particular groups. In the theory of consociational democracy, such a role of political elites is referred to as the notion of grand coalition. Lijphart defines the “grand coalition” as the most important element of a consociational democracy[3] which we believe is used as the model of organisation of BiH. 

This paper will present the concept and functioning of the grand coalition, including other characteristics of consociational democracy, the proportional and parity representation of ethnic groups, as well as the veto power and autonomy of the ethnic groups in the political system of BiH.

The case of Bosnia and Herzegovina shows that it is unlikely that the model of a consociational set-up shall transform into a standard democratic system, which in principle is the main objective of Lijphart’s idea.[4]

The international community representatives[5] in Bosnia and Herzegovina expected, we may add, unrealistically, that the stabilisation of the internal conditions and changed social circumstances would lead to a convergence of the antagonised sides, and that the constitutional system would be improved by the institutional action of the democratically elected governments. However, the imposed constitutional model that decentralises and deinstitutionalises the decision-making process, disables, in practice, the establishment of an effective state, and represents nothing more than an attempt of a “trade-off” between accepting a weak state or conflict that would result in the state’s collapse.[6] Therefore, the problem of building a sustainable and functional state lies in understanding the concept of society stabilisation identified with the preservation of peace which is insufficient, and serves as an excuse to national political elites’ representatives to avoid responsibility. Although it is clear that the current system in Bosnia-Herzegovina is ineffective, oligarchic, and non-transparent, it will still not be improved, because the minimum consensus has been reduced to consent to peace.



A key condition for the functioning of any democratic society and state is the existence of minimum consensus between political subjects about accepting the community in which they live. When talking about a pluralistic society and a democratic multiethnic state, then the minimum consensus among all ethnic groups about a common state constitutes a rather complex theoretical and practical issue. Achieving the minimum consensus can be based on different motives, such as the preservation of identity, financial stability, or social welfare which corresponds to Scharpf’s understanding of “output” legitimacy.[7] The minimum consensus can even be reached in a flawed or an incomplete constitutional system, in other words, sometimes the minimum consensus constitutes the only alternative to conflict.[8]

In this regard, the question is whether accepting the existing constitutional framework, which ended the war, also represents a minimum consensus of ethnic groups. Although we cannot talk of a formally defined minimum consensus about the existing constitutional framework, as the Constitution of BiH has never passed the process of adoption,[9] we take it as a starting point for determining the minimum consensus, as political entities of all ethnic groups operate within the given system thus making it legitimate.

Thus, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the minimum consensus for living in a single state is seen as “consent to peace”.[10] However, the problem resides in the interpretation of “consent to peace” by different ethnic groups and political elites. Understanding the content of consenting to peace varies from the desire to preserve the country as a whole to the desire to preserve the established “state creations” during the war.

The different understanding of the “minimum consensus” causes constant tensions and resistance among the dominant ethnic groups, which complicates the decision-making process, making thereby the already weak constitutional organisation even more ineffective.  

In general, the theory recognises that the principal risk in establishing a new constitutional organisation is that the key political actors refuse to participate in the new political institutions, causing the fall of the constitutional order.[11] Bearing in mind the paradoxical situation existing in BiH as to the implementation of the Peace Agreement, the implementation of the Constitution depending on those who are most likely to sabotage, the risk of disintegration of the constitutional order becomes more than certain.[12]

As the imposed constitutional solutions were getting implemented, it became apparent that they were not sufficient for the state’s successful functioning and that there was necessary to upgrade the system by expanding the competencies of the state authority. In this regard, the Constitution left the possibility of transferring competencies from an entity to BiH institutions with the entity’s consent. Although it was expected that political leaders would recognize the importance of upgrading the state system which would guarantee stability and prosperity to all represented groups, it soon became clear that minimum consensus applied only to the imposed constitutional framework.

More specifically, no law that would improve the system and contribute to meeting the conditions for Euro-Atlantic integration has been passed by the legislature, but rather by the representatives of the international community.[13] Additionally, it should be emphasised that initiatives of individual political parties, as well as civil society organisations and individuals, have followed the division in society and the state and as such provoked the resistance of other ethnic groups. An obvious example of this was the general elections campaign in 2006, when there were demands to abolish the entities, on the one hand, in favour of the secession, and independence of the entity, on the other hand. All these were reasons enough for the international community to take the initiative, especially in the early post-war years, to improve the constitutional system by strengthening its own authority.[14]

The question is, therefore, whether such a definition of the minimum consensus, barring the influence of the international community, can be the basis for the long-term stability of the country, taking into account the evolution of society.

 It should be kept in mind that a low standard of living and the state of social insecurity will not contribute to raise the feeling of attachment towards the state, but the adopted constitutional changes would also be questionable.  



The constitutional reforms of 1990 were the most important reforms in the process of democratization in BiH society which declared freedom of political organisation and transformation of a one-party political system into a multiparty democracy. Already during the first free democratic elections, two basic models of party organisation were evident. One model of party organisation was characterised by programmes based, above all, on the protection and promotion of ethnic interests, leading to a nearly hundred per cent ethnically homogeneous membership. The second model of organisation followed the principles of multi-ethnicity and a citizen-oriented political programme.

In other words, the newly formed parties organised on the ethnic principle won the majority of votes – 84%. Thus, since 1990, the affiliation with a particular ethnic group was already the basis of political organisation in BiH.[15] According to Šarčević, under the conditions of the then republic constitutional system, the “agreement of peoples” could not be reached without the destruction of its civic element and territorialisation of the ethnic principle.[16] The ethnic fragmentation of the society, accentuated by the state’s division into entities and ethnic groups as the main political subjects, confirmed the principle of ethnic belonging as basis for organising political parties. And so, during the first post-war elections of 1996, major national parties obtained an almost identical election result of 85% of votes, as compared to 1990. 

The name and programme declaration of a specific political party is not the criterion which determines the character of a political party in BiH. The ideological orientation of a political party in BiH is primarily determined by pragmatic stances which leaders take towards key issues and problems in BiH, followed by the actions of the leaders and leading party members, and the content of their speeches when addressing voters and party members.

When we talk about the political organisation of Bosniaks, as the most numerous ethnic group in BiH, then the most significant is the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), which since 1990 has enjoyed the greatest support among Bosniaks. The initial programme goals of SDA were the protection of Bosniaks and their status in SFRY. Party president Alija Izetbegović was head of state during the 1992-1995 war, while SDA representatives believe that the party contributed the most to the independence of BiH. SDA represents a typical “peoples” party whose programme views from 1992 to 2010 significantly shifted from hard right to a centre right party. The reform of SDA was marked by the inclusion of a small number of members from other ethnic groups to central party bodies. Internal party reforms were not supported by all party members, some of whom resigned as members and formed new political parties that they believed were the true successors of the pre-war SDA.

The second political party which at certain times won a significant number of Bosniak votes is the Party for BiH (SBiH). This is the most significant of the political parties established in 1996 by disgruntled SDA members. This party, even though declared as a multi-ethnic party, in certain situations by decisions of the party leader and central party bodies further radicalised the inter-ethnic relations in BiH. For the past two years, SBiH has been in opposition. However, since 1996 to 2010 this party was always in power, participating in the distribution of offices and not being picky when choosing coalition partners. During the last elections they saw the debacle followed by inter-party conflicts and collapse of party organisation.

The third political party that has the support of the Bosniak electorate is the Party for Better Future (SBB). SBB is a new party on the political scene in BiH, established in 2010. The party leadership, by highlighting candidates belonging to different ethnic groups, and through its name, attempted to present themselves as a political party for all ethnic groups. In reality, by neglecting the RS and focusing on the interests of Bosniaks, thereby establishing rivalry with Bosniak political parties, SBB in fact defined itself as an ethnic party.

Within the Croat ethnic group, the Croat Democratic Union (HDZ BiH) has been the dominant political party since its establishment in 1990. HDZ BiH, with its programme, name and activities of political representatives is solely a party for the Croat ethnic group and can be characterised as a national party of ‘right’ provenance. The greatest crises were in 2006, after losing internal elections; Božo Ljubić with part of the membership proclaimed themselves as sole legitimate representative of the interests and goals of the Croat people and founded HDZ 1990. Today both parties, HDZ BiH and HDZ 1990, in coalition, have no significant differences in their programmes or political activities.

When we talk about the Croat ethnic group it is important to mention the Croat Party of Rights Đapić-dr. Jurišić. Namely, in 2004, the process of unifying several legalist parties, which had been getting fewer votes, into one party under the auspices of HSP of Croatia was completed. Although this party, with a programme and activities that are of the ideological right, since 2010 they have been in coalition with civil multi-ethnic parties. 

The Serb Democratic Party (SDS) was a political representative of the Serb ethnic group resulted from the first multiparty elections of 1990 until general elections in 1998. SDS is the first of the three ethnic pre-war parties that lost majority support within their ethnic group. It is important to emphasise that the complete SDS leadership of 1992 was indicted and convicted for war crimes before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague. A certain number of pre-war SDS leaders have already served their sentences, while court processes against some others are still on-going. Moreover, a certain number of political representatives of this party were removed from party and public functions by decisions of the High Representative, while the party was subject to a number of financial sanctions. This resulted in the dispersal of its membership, which weakened its organisational structure and led to poor results in the next elections. In 1998 Biljana Plavšić left the party and with her followers she founded the Serb Peoples Union (SNS), and in coalition with the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) consequently established the Government in RS. After Biljana Plavšić was convicted for war crimes, SNS practically disappeared from the political scene, while SNSD support increased with each election cycle.

SNSD was established in 1996 and for the next ten years was in opposition at the state level. During that period SNSD was a centre-left party with moderate positions, in which parties from FBiH with a similar ideological orientation found a political interlocutor. The peak of cooperation was the signing of a common platform in 2003 between the leaders of SNSD, SDP, SP[17] and NHI[18] that preceded the “April package”, pledging mutual support for a proposed constitutional reform. After the rejection of the April package, SNSD took up and kept the rhetoric of a more radical party and in 2006, during the pre-election campaign, openly called for secession of RS that resulted in winning majority of votes in RS.

The Party of Democratic Progress (PDP) was established in 1999 and defines itself as a centre-right party and operates within the Serb ethnic group. Regardless of its programme orientation, since its establishment until the last elections, PDP participated in governing coalitions with parties of different ideological orientations.

The Social Democratic Party (SDP) is currently one of the leading parties in political life in BiH. It evolved from the former Communist League of Bosnia and Herzegovina and finished by defining itself as a party of modern left orientation. By name, orientation, and political activity, SDP presents itself as a multi-ethnic party that acts on the entire territory of BiH. The representatives of all three ethnic groups are present in the organs of the party, and all three ethnic groups were on its electoral lists. Although SDP defines itself as a civic party, the fact is that this party gets most of its votes from areas where the Bosniak ethnic group makes majority. In this regard, parties of the Croat and Serb ethnic groups dispute the multi-ethnic character of SDP and consider it a Bosniak party. On the other hand, parties that operate within the Bosniak ethnic group consider SDP as a party that does not articulate the interests of Bosniaks in the right way. Although when establishing coalitions, SDP insisted on joint programmes, there are cases when they entered coalitions with parties of different ideological orientation.

“Our Party” (NS) was established in 2008, embarked on a new course called “the third way”, but still retained liberalism as its ideological commitment and a multi-ethnic membership. In the elections of 2010, NS had not experienced significant success. They had counted on votes from citizens who usually abstain from elections or those that do not support parties of certain ethnic groups. The Peoples Party “Work for Progress” (NSRZB) was established in 2001 as a political party of the centre which includes members of all ethnic groups. The representatives of this party, in various state institutions, usually vote in a block with SDP, with whom they are in coalition.

The most significant element that is common to all Bosniak parties is the advocacy of broad Constitutional reform, more particularly by strengthening the state institutions, and a long term vision of abolishing entities as war creations which are the result of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Solving the “Croat question” in BiH through further federalisation represents the backbone of activities of the aforementioned political parties of the Croat ethnic group, while the parties that operate within the Serb ethnic group advocate the preservation of the status quo, by opposing the strengthening of the state and evolution of the constitutional system, regardless of how much it can contribute to overall progress. Maintaining the position of the entity within the existing constitutional system is primary and unquestionable for these political parties. On the other hand, multi-ethnic parties in BiH insist on developing the democratic state by improving the constitutional system with a different regional organisation of the state, which does not exclude a certain degree of federalism, and continuation of reforms.

It should be borne in mind that for two decades the political life in BiH was marked by constant inter-party turmoil within all ethnic groups, and it is almost a rule that after every party congress disgruntled members depart and form new political parties. It appears too many that in post-conflict states political parties are undemocratic and even if there are mechanisms of interparty control, the leaders usually manipulate them.

An equal ideological orientation as the basis for inter-party cooperation from different ethnic groups occurs sporadically and is more likely when parties are in opposition rather than in power.[19] In the event that political parties do form a government, then the only common programmatic issue is the appointment to different functions, while other issues, including the coalition political programmes, are pushed aside.[20]

That being so, we can conclude that political parties constitute the organised political manifestation of ethnic groups. Such a party system implies that in BiH, with certain exceptions, there is no political competition between ethnic groups, but only within certain ethnic group, while elections represent a de facto selection of the leader of a particular ethnic group who will, in the post-election period, be part of the “grand coalition” and negotiate with leaders of other ethnic groups. This fact implies that the driving force of the political system in BiH is made of the leaders of political parties, at the same time leaders of ethnic groups, who consider themselves legitimate decision-makers. Such a set position of the leaders corresponds to the theoretical definition of a “grand coalition”, as the most important element in a consociational democracy.[21] The functioning of a grand coalition is also conditioned by the constitutional framework, which follows the principle of ethnic parity and proportionality with a view to establishing the state political bodies and functioning of state authority.

The absence of a common political programme is expected if one bears in mind the radically different ideas on BiH organisation, even within a single ethnic group, and among political parties representing them. The Bosniaks’ political representatives see the existence of entities and the possibility of blocking joint institutions as the basic problem in a developing country, the Croats’ representatives demand further territorialisation of BiH by establishing a third “Croat” entity, while Serb representatives call for the secession of RS and disintegration of BiH. 

In these complex relations between ethnic groups and their political representatives, the role of political parties and what inter-party cooperation really means becomes an issue. In BiH, inter-party cooperation happens at two levels. One level presents informal agreement among political leaders which should result in its implementation by formal institutions. The other level of inter-party cooperation is carried out within the institutions of the system in two ways: one way of cooperation is the participation of political party representatives in the legislative and executive authority, which will be explained more thoroughly in the next chapter, and the second way of cooperation constitutes formal inter-party agreements on joint stances, as well as party coalitions.

Political life in BiH confines itself to negotiations between political leaders who out-of-institutions coordinate positions related to important constitutional, economic and other issues, and engage themselves to implement the agreed policies through their representatives in government institutions at all levels. An example of the aforementioned case is the harmonisation of proposals for Constitutional amendments (the so-called April package), as well as Butmir, Prud agreement, etc.[22] More precisely, due to deep divisions between ethnic groups, informal agreements among leaders often take place under the pressure of the international community representatives, while reached agreements should be transferred to institutions.

Talks among the leaders are focused on the most important state issues, such as reform of the constitutional system and harmonisation with the European Convention on Human Rights, issues related to state property, census, and similar issues. Despite the fact that in specific issues (e.g. agreement on state property), during the informal meetings of the leaders, agreements which are reached are often not taken into account or institutionalised in the state bodies (exception was the aforementioned April package).

As an additional argument we present the non-implementation of the Judgment of the European Court in the Sejdić and Finci case.[23] Thus, although BiH is obligated to implement the Court’s decisions, its leaders failed to take the responsibility and reach an agreement as to the reform of the Constitution and the Election Law which derives from the mentioned decision of the European Court.[24]

The essential question is to determine the criteria upon which a grand coalition is formed. Although the theoretical model emphasises that for a grand coalition to exist there is no need of formal institutionalisation, but only participation of the leaders in the grand coalition, in terms of negotiations on the most important national issues, the dilemma is whether this is sufficient or not. The practical realisation of a grand coalition as an informal group of ethnic group leaders should result in an agreement that is transferred to the institutions where the leaders’ decisions are reinforced by a formal procedure. This is exactly what Lijphart refers to when he points out that, despite deep ethnic group differences, for successful realisation of consociational democracy.

“[...] the leaders should reasonably feel affection in preserving the unity of the state and democratic system. Furthermore, they must be basically willing to participate in cooperation with the leaders of other ethnic groups and in the spirit of moderation and mutual concessions.”[25]

By answering the question as to why a grand coalition does not yield the expected results, respectively, why the agreement is not implemented by the institutions of the system, we can find the answer through the fact that the leaders have no desire to improve the state system, because they see the minimum consensus as “consent to peace”. It is quite expected that the grand coalition cannot function in practice, having in mind the radically different ideas on the organisation of BiH, both within a particular ethnic group and at the level of the political parties that represent them.[26] The aforesaid is supported by the fact that when there is a request to strengthen the state, as a reaction we have a message about the “death of the state”[27], as the only alternative to Dayton’s solutions which further radicalises the political situation as it threatens with the collapse.

All the mentioned situations go in favour of the statement that the decision-making process became alienated from most citizens, that is, members of ethnic groups and civil society organisations, and even the institutions that are constitutionally defined as responsible for decision-making are bypassed. 

While consociational theorists believe that the non-institutional way of negotiating and decision-making – with all the deficiencies related to the establishment of an oligarchic system, deinstitutionalisation of the system and lack of transparency – is acceptable, because “although it is far from the abstract ideals, it is the best kind of democracy that can be expected”[28] Unfortunately, in BiH we witness that consociational democracy, hence the grand coalition, is followed by exclusively negative aspects, and that the state system has not become functional and efficient for 18 years, and it is questionable whether it is a democratic one or not.

In societies such as Bosnia-Herzegovina the decision-making of leaders does not contribute to the democratisation of society, nor does it establish a form of an oligarchic system and “the politics became an auto referential system, because there is no connection between political parties and society and with this the political system loses its function of governing a society”.[29]



The BiH Constitution specifies that the structure of the state bodies shall follow two principles: an equal and proportional ethnic representation and a proportional entity representation. The composition of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina that consists of three members follows both principles: one Bosniak and one Croat elected from the Federation of BiH and one Serb elected in Republika Srpska. Members of the Presidency rotate in the position of Chairman every eight months. Any member who dissents from a proposed decision by the Presidency may declare it detrimental to the entity from which he/she is elected and a final decision will be taken by entity representative bodies. Although it was designed that, in line with the principle of ethnic representation of the Presidency members, each ethnic group elects its own representative, the rules of the Election Law left the possibility that in the Federation of BiH members of one ethnic group can vote for a representative from the other ethnic group. In the last two terms the legitimacy of the Croat member of the Presidency, an SDP candidate, was challenged, because he was allegedly elected by the votes of Bosniaks, which worsened the political relations in the country, but also led to the establishment of inter-party cooperation among the Croat community.[30]

Regarding the election of the members of the Council of Ministers, the Constitution stipulates that no more than two-thirds of all ministers may be appointed from the territory of the Federation. This provision ensures entity representation, while the provision that the Chairman and his deputies cannot be from the same constituent people meets the principle of ethnic representation. 

The Parliamentary Assembly as a bicameral body consists of the House of Peoples and the House of Representatives. The House of Peoples comprises 15 delegates, two-thirds from the Federation (including five Croats and five Bosniaks), and five Serbs from Republika Srpska. The caucuses are not organised according to the principle of party affiliation, but ethnically, thus in the House of Peoples there are caucuses of the Bosniak, Serb and Croat peoples. The inter-party cooperation in the House of Peoples is achieved by the activities of the representatives of different political parties within the relevant caucus of constituent peoples. Because the constitutional and election system leans towards collective representation, the inter-party cooperation takes place only within one ethnic group and within one entity, and not between different ethnic groups, thus deepening the existing divisions. With their work, the representatives of political parties in the House of Peoples do not contribute to the democratisation of the society, which according to the theoretical model lies in cooperation and negotiations, but use the system to preserve the status quo.

The House of Representatives is organised along the principle of entity representation whereby two-thirds are elected from the territory of the Federation, and one-third from the territory of Republika Srpska. The ethnic principle is reflected in the provision that stipulates that the Speaker and his/her deputies shall be from different constituent peoples and rotate in the position of Speaker. The intention of the drafters of the constitution was to ensure the principle of civic representation in the House of Representatives, although in practice the entity representation principle is transformed to ethnic principle through the so-called procedure of “entity vote”. That is to say that all decisions in the House are adopted by the majority vote of those present and voting, although members shall make their best efforts to see that the majority include at least one-third of the votes of the members from the territory of each entity. If those efforts fail, decisions shall be taken by the majority of those present and voting, provided that the dissenting votes do not include two-thirds, or more, of the members elected from either entity.[31] As for the election of the judges to the Constitutional Court,[32] the Constitution requires entity representation, although the current practice shows that national judges were elected according to the principle of equal ethnic representation.



The autonomy of ethnic groups on internal issues can be viewed through both a territorial and non-territorial lens. After the war, in BiH we can note the existence of territorial autonomy through the establishment and “transfer” of competencies on internal issues of ethnic group down to entity level, and in Federation of BiH to Cantons. 

Of special significance is the veto right that constitutes the mechanism of protecting the interests of ethnic groups in BiH. The veto right may be exercised directly, through the request for the protection of vital national interest of the constituent peoples, and covertly through the relevant legislative procedure in the House of Peoples of the Parliamentary Assembly of BiH.[33]

The mechanism for the protection of vital national interest is intended to ensure that no decision is taken contrary to the interests of one of the constituent peoples. The Constitution of BiH provides that a proposed decision may be declared detrimental to the vital interests of the Bosniak, Croat, or Serb people by the majority of votes, as appropriate, of the Bosniak, Croat, or Serb delegates, but it does not give a definition of the vital national interest. As there is no set list of issues on which vital national interest can be invoked, it is possible that each ethnic group arbitrarily assesses what can affect its national interest, because the Constitutional Court of BiH examines “the procedural regularity of a particular case” and eventually decides on meritum.[34] Such a system of invoking the veto right, as a protective mechanism, allows indirect achievement of a certain degree of autonomy of each ethnic group.[35]

The protection of the national interest can also be achieved indirectlyas part of the legislative process in the House of Peoples of BiH. More specifically, three delegates from one ethnic group can, without justification, block the decision-making process by voting against a proposed act, thus preventing its adoption, which is often used in place of the mechanism for the protection of the vital national interest.[36]

Although the possibility of invoking the veto entails the danger of blocking the system, and mechanisms do not always function in accordance with its purpose,[37] which regularly happens in BiH, Lijphart believes that democracy in a plural society, after initial slowness and difficulties, will in time prevail if ethnic group leaders reduce the right of veto to a necessary minimum.[38]

The High Representative of the international community in BiH has the power to take the necessary measures against the persons holding public office, including the right to remove them and ban their political engagements, pronouncing and changing laws, suspending the validity of certain provisions or laws, thus ensuring the implementation of the Dayton Agreement and smoothing the functioning of institutions.[39] These powers, on the one hand, have advantages because they are a mechanism for de-blocking the system (a sort of “veto of a veto”), but on the other hand, negatively affect the process of democratisation of the state and society. The leaders of ethnic groups are aware of the powers and possibilities of the High Representative’s intervention, and often and unnecessarily radicalise political views and relations between individual ethnic groups, thus departing from Lijphart’s principle.



The theoretical concept of consociational democracy advocates the establishment of a grand coalition in which party leaders, of all ethnic groups, participate and which, through negotiation processes and agreement on mutual stances, make decisions on basic national issues and guide the social development. In this way, in theory, consociational democracy would “overcome itself” and a stable democratic society would be formed.

Although BiH has been established as a consociational democracy, in practice the problem of building a self-sustainable and functional state limits itself to an insufficient consensus of ethnic groups as to whether they want to live in a single state. Therefore, “consent to peace” constitutes a minimum consensus on which Bosnia-Herzegovinian (post) conflict society is based, thus disabling the possibility of creating a long-term stable state system.

Although in theory the homogeneity of ethnic groups in a particular area can be considered as an advantage, because it enables the establishment of federalism as an element of the consociational democracy, the Bosnia-Herzegovinian practice shows just the opposite. The ethnic territorialisation in BiH is not natural, but it is the result of war and ethnic cleansing (as such confirmed by the Peace Agreement), which as a consequence cannot lead to the creation of a successful state, since it establishes self-sufficient ethnically homogenous societies. Belonging to a particular ethnic group becomes the basis of political organisation, and in the Bosnia-Herzegovinian consociational democracy political competitiveness does not express itself between ethnic groups, but within a particular ethnic group, while the decision-making process is shifted to a close circle of political elites, primarily in the circle of ethnic group leaders.  

The elections in BiH are reduced to the selection of leaders of ethnic groups who are considered to be legitimised for decision-making, and the constitutional and electoral system with its solutions contributes to maintaining the state of ethnic and political divisions. In this way the decision-making process becomes alienated from most citizens, i.e. members of ethnic groups, while constitutionally defined decision-making institutions are bypassed and abused.

The complexity of the situation in BiH does not allow much space to argue that consociational democracy, in this particular moment, would “overcome itself”, i.e. that the practical implementation of theoretical principles would yield the expected results. Thus, the consociational democracy in BiH is maintained by preserving peace as its maximum range, while overcoming these problems potentially could be found in fulfilling the conditions for the accession to the European Union which could relativize ethnic divisions and create a new basis for reaching the minimum consensus.


BELLONI, Roberto, “Peace Building and Consociational Electoral Engineering in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, International Peacekeeping, Vol. 11, No. 2, Routledge, London, 2006.

COX, Marcus, State Building and post conflict reconstruction: Lessons from Bosnia, CASIN, Geneva, 2001. 

CUNNINGHAM, Frank, Teorije demokratije – kritički uvod (Theories of Democracy – A Critical Introduction), Filip Višnjić, Beograd, 2003.

KASAPOVIĆ, Mirjana, Bosna i Hercegovina podijeljeno društvo i nestabilna država (Bosnia and Herzegovina Divided Society and Unstable State), Politička kultura, Zagreb, 2005.

LIJPHART, Arend, Demokracija u pluralnim društvima (Democracy in Plural Societies), Školska knjiga, Zagreb, 1992.

STEINER, Christian, Nedim ADEMOVIĆ, “BiH Constitution Commentary”, in Representation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Sarajevo, 2010.

ŠARČEVIĆ, Edin, Ustav iz nužde (The Emergency Constitution), Rabic, Sarajevo, 2010.

O’LEARY, Brendan, “Debating Consociational Politics”, in Sid NOEL (ed.),  From Power Sharing to Democracy, McGill – Queen's University Press, Quebec, 2005.

PEJANOVIĆ, Mirko, “The Genesis of Political Pluralism Development in BiH”, in Zoran LOTIVAC (ed.), Political Parties and Voters in the States of the Former Yugoslavia, Beograd, 2006.

EHRKE, Michael, Social Democratic Parties in Central and Southeast Europe-Political Movements or Agencies for Government Management?, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Beograd, 2010. Database on-line. Available at:

SCHARPF, Fritz, Problem-solving Effectiveness and Democratic Accountability in the European Union, Max Institute for the Study of Societies, 2003. Database on-line. Available at: 

Venice Commission Opinion on the Constitutional Situation in BiH and the Powers of the High Representative Number CDL-AD (2005) 004. Database on-line. Available at:

[1] The terms of nation/national in this paper refer to ethnic group/belonging to an ethnic group.

[2] The basis for the internal territorial division of the state in two entities was the acquired position of the military forces during the war which was confirmed by Annex IV of the Dayton Agreement which states that BiH shall consist of two entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska.

[3] Arend LIJPHART, Demokracija u pluralnim društvima (Democracy in Plural Societies), Školska knjiga, Zagreb, 1992, p. 32.

[4] Ibidem, p. 227.

[5] Venice Commission Opinion on the Constitutional situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and powers of the High Representative, number CDL-AD (2005) 004, paragraph 14 and 23, 2005, available at:

[6] Marcus COX, State Building and post conflict reconstruction: Lessons from Bosnia, CASIN, Geneva, 2001, p. 6. 

[7] Fritz SCHARPF, Problem-solving Effectiveness and Democratic Accountability in the European Union, Max Institute for the Study of Societies, Working Paper 03/1, 2003, available at:

[8] For further information, see the theoretical considerations in Brendan O’LEARY, “Debating Consociational Politics”, in Sid NOEL (ed.) From Power Sharing to Democracy, McGill – Queen's University Press Quebec, 2005, pp. 10-11.

[9] E.g. parliamentary procedure and adoption, referendum, ratification.

[10] Mirjana KASAPOVIĆ, Bosna i Hercegovina podijeljeno društvo i nestabilna država (Bosnia and Herzegovina Divided Society and Unstable State), Politička kultura, Zagreb, 2005, p. 163.

[11] Marcus COX, State… cit., p. 6.

[12] Roberto BELLONI, “Peace Building and Consociational Electoral Engineering in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, International Peacekeeping, Vol. 11, No. 2, Routledge,  London, 2006, p. 338.

[13] E.g. BiH Election Law, the Law on the Flag and Coat of Arms of BiH, Law on National Anthem, Law on State Border Service in BiH.

[14] Conclusions from the Peace Implementation Conference that was held in Bonn on 09. and 10.12.1997 introducing the so-called Bonn Powers.

[15] Mirko PEJANOVIĆ, “The Genesis of Political Pluralism Development in BiH”, in Zoran LOTIVAC (ed.) Political Parties and Voters in the States of the Former Yugoslavia, Beograd, 2006, pp. 237-252, p. 239.

[16] Edin ŠARČEVIĆ, Ustav iz nužde (The Emergency Constitution), Rabic, Sarajevo, 2010, p. 98.

[17] SP (Socialist Party) was founded in 1993 and represents a party of Serb ethnic group with negligible impact which was in close relations with Slobodan Milošević’s Socialist Party. After internal turmoil, from this party emerged two parties – Democratic Socialist Party that later entered the framework of SNSD, as well as Peoples Democratic Party and New Socialist Party.

[18] NHI (New Croat Initiative) represents a party of the Croat ethnic group, with negligible impact, which was established after the former leader of HDZ BiH lost the inter-party election.

[19] An example of programme cooperation between opposition parties is the signing of the platform by SNSD, SDP, SP and NHI leaders in 2003.

[20] Mirko PEJANOVIĆ, The Genesis…cit., p. 243.

[21] Arend LIJPHART, Demokracija…cit., p. 32.

[22] The April package is the informal agreement of political leaders to amend the Constitution when they succeeded to rise above the dominant atmosphere of fear that prevailed in the country and when they made mutual concessions, was transferred to the institutions of the system. The proposed amendments to the Constitution were not supported in the BiH Parliament, although the International Community insisted on their adoption. The representatives of Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats, who enjoyed the greatest support within their respective ethic group, attempted in Prud in 2008 to renew the discussions on fundamental issues related to the functioning of the state. The subject of the discussion was the need of reform of the constitutional system and harmonisation with the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as state property, census, and the reconstruction of the Council of Ministers. Unlike the “April package” the “Prud Agreement” did not make a single concrete proposal on how to reform the Constitution. Although these political parties had majority in the institutions, issues discussed in Prud never made it to state authorities. The proposal of changes to the Constitution of BiH known as “Butmir package” was initiated by representatives of the USA and EU with five ruling and two opposition parties in 2009. But in the end, “Butmir package” was rejected.

[23] Dervo Sejdić and Jakob Finci declare themselves as being of Roma and Jewish origins, stating that they do not pretend to be members of one of the “constituent peoples”, and as such are hindered from running for the elections in the House of Peoples of BiH PA and BiH Presidency. The judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case Sejdić and Finci against BiH no. 27996/06 and 34836/06 dated 22.12.2009,

is available at:

[24]The Parliamentary Assembly of BiH has established Ad hoc Committee of both Houses for the implementation of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case Sejdić and Finci against BiH. The task of the Committee was to propose amendments to the BiH Constitution and submit them to parliamentary procedure until 30.11.2011, and by 31.12.2011 prepare Proposed Law on Changes and Amendments of the BiH Election Law. It was expected that the Committee will not reach consensus having in mind the absence of agreement of ethnic group leaders on the implementation of the decision.

[25] Arend LIJPHART, Demokracija…cit., p. 59.

[26] Bosniak political representatives, as main problem in developing the state, seek the existence of entities and the possibility of blocking joint institutions; Croat representatives demand further territorialisation of BiH by introducing the third “Croat” entity, while Serb representatives call for the secession of RS and the fall of BiH. 

[27]The Interview of the President of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik given to Tanjug is available at: dated 09.01.2013. 

[28] Frank CUNNINGHAM, Teorije demokratije – kritički uvod (Theories of Democracy – A Critical Introduction), Filip Višnjić, Beograd, 2003, p. 146.

[29] Michael EHRKE, Social Democratic Parties in Central and Southeast Europe-Political movements or agencies for Government Management?, available at

[30] Activation of the Croat National Council.

[31] BIH Constitution Article IV/2 d).

[32] BiH Constitutional Court is comprised of nine judges from whom six are national judges; four are selected in FBiH, and two in RS.

[33]Article IV/3. of the BiH Constitution.

[34]Article IV/3.e) and f) of the BiH Constitution.

[35] At the Entity level government, there are additional mechanisms of protecting national interests, while the autonomy of ethnic groups in FBiH is achieved through division of competences between Federation and cantons.

[36] The study “The Decision-making Process in the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina” (Representation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Sarajevo, 2009, pp. 88-90 and p. 93) also pointed out the problem of the entity voting. Specifically, out of 260 rejected proposals and draft laws in the period from 1997 to 2007, 156 were not adopted, because they did not receive the necessary support of the representatives or delegates from one of the entities. On the other hand, in the observed period, the institute of protection of national interest was used only four rimes. 

[37] See also the Venice Commission Opinion on the Constitutional situation in BiH and the powers of the High Representative number CDL-AD (2005) 004 at

[38] Arend LIJPHART, Demokracija…cit., p. 57.

[39] Although the powers of the High Representative only relate to DPA Annex X the provision of the same Agreement gave the High Representative the power for monitoring, coordinating and enhancing the implementation of the civil aspect of the peace settlement thus resulting in expanding the mentioned powers to all civil aspects in other Annexes. See more Steiner – Ademovic BiH Constitution Commentary (Sarajevo, 2010), 726.