Bosnia and Herzegovina Government and Politics

State and politics

Bosnia and Herzegovina Country Flag

Reference: Bosnia and Herzegovina Flag Meaning

According to, Bosnia and Herzegovina proclaimed its independence in April 1992 following a referendum largely boycotted by the Serbian third of the population, which wanted to continue to belong to Yugoslavia. Shortly after the Declaration of Independence, war broke out and a state of emergency was introduced. At the same time, a Bosnian Serb republic was proclaimed. A Bosnian Croat state formation (Herceg-Bosna, see Abbreviationfinder) was also proclaimed. However, none of them received international recognition. In 1994, Bosniaks (ie Bosnian Muslims) and Croats, following American pressure, entered into a federation that later came to be confirmed in the Dayton Agreement.

The agreement, negotiated internationally by Presidents Slobodan Milošević (Serbia), Franjo Tudjman (Croatia) and Alija Izetbegović (Bosnia and Herzegovina), put an end to the war. It was signed in December 1995 and includes a new constitution, which states that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a sovereign state within internationally recognized borders and that it consists of two entities (so-called entities): the Bosnian-Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia Republic (Republika Srpska). The country remains formally united, but is territorially and politically divided according to ethnic criteria. The Serbian entity has sometimes threatened to break out and leave Bosnia and Herzegovina and among the Croats there are those who want to divide the Bosnian-Croatian entity into two.

The central government in the capital Sarajevo is responsible for foreign policy, foreign exchange policy, customs and more, but through a complex constitutional construction has come to be heavily rooted and weak. The units have their own parliaments, which are given the right to establish special relations with other states, such as the Serbian Republic with Serbia. The central power shall consist of a Presidency, a Parliament (the Parliaments skupština Bosne in Hercegovine) with two chambers and a Constitutional Court. A basic principle is ethnic power sharing. The Presidency has three members: a Muslim and a Croat directly elected from the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and a Serb directly elected from the Serbian Republic, all in four years.

The presidency of the Presidential Council rotates for eight months. The Presidency Council appoints a head of government, which must be approved by the House of Representatives. The head of government then nominates his ministers. The first of Parliament’s two chambers, the House of the People (Dom Naroda), has 15 members: five Muslims and five Croats appointed by the Muslim and Croatian members of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as five Serbs appointed by Parliament in the Serbian Republic. The second chamber, the House of Representatives (Predstavnički Dom), consists of 42 members, two thirds of them directly elected in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, one third in the Serbian Republic. All MEPs have a four-year term. However, a large number of mechanisms give the units and ethnic groups great opportunities to delay and block central decisions.

The federation consists of ten relatively independent “cantons”, of which five are dominated by Bosniaks, three by Croats and two have a mixed population. The Federation’s administrative apparatus has three levels, which are intended to guarantee the status and rights of the ethnic groups, but in practice have proved to be heavy-handed. There is no cantonal administrative level in the Serbian Republic. In addition to the two entities is the area Brčko in the northeast, which after an international arbitration in 1999 is a self-governing municipality directly subordinate to the central authorities.

To ensure compliance with the Dayton Agreement, the international community introduced the post as High Representative (first on the record was Carl Bildt; since March 2009 it is held by Austrian Valentin Inzko; since September 2011 the EU has its own high representative in the country, the Danish Peter Sørensen), which gradually gained greater powers. For example, the High Representative can both enforce and annul laws, dismissing politicians who are an obstacle to the peace process and more. In practice, this means that Bosnia and Herzegovina is governed as an international protectorate rather than as an independent state.

However, this whole elusive machinery, which delays and obstructs important reforms and which is also extremely costly for the poor state, has increasingly come into question. Among other things, the EU has set as a requirement for membership negotiations that Bosnia make amendments to the Constitution so that it lives up to the normal European standard. Among other things, the EU and the Council of Europe have criticized the fact that only Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs today are allowed to run in presidential and parliamentary elections; In 2009, the European Court of Human Rights declared that the constitution must be amended so that minorities such as Roma and Jews and others can stand up, but the Bosnian Central Government has not attached any importance to the court’s ruling.History). However, there is a fear among many that changes in the Dayton Agreement, which led to an end to the civil war and which was perhaps the best that could be achieved at the time, would cause old contradictions to flare up again.

In the elections held since the end of the war, most Bosnians have voted along ethnic lines and the nationalist forces have thus been able to retain their strength. In order to maintain power, they have an interest in maintaining tension between the groups, which in turn makes integration difficult. However, the three major ethnic parties, which existed before the war and which have long dominated politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina, that is, the Bosniak SDA, the Bosnian Serbs SDS and the Croatian HDZ (with strong ties to the sister party in Croatia), have partly received competition from new parties (see below).

In the autumn 2010 parliamentary elections, the SDP (Social Democratic Party, Socialist Democrat Party Partija Bosne in Hercegovine) became Zlatko Lagumdžija’s largest party again – it had received the most votes in the 2000 elections, but has since declined. The SDP, with roots in the old Communist Party, is a secular party that is admittedly dominated by Bosniaks but caters to all ethnic groups. Almost as large became the Serbian SNSD (Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, Savez nezavisnih socijaldemokrata). SNSD was initially a pro-EU left-wing party, which in 2006 overtook the Serb nationalist SDS (Serbian Democratic Party, Serb Democratic Party; this had once been founded on the size of Radovan Karadžić), who was convicted of war crimes, but has since become increasingly nationalistic. Party leader Milorad Dodik also became the president of the Republika Srpska after the 2010 elections. Among the purely Bosnian parties, the nationalist SDA (Party of Democratic Action, Stranka Democratic Democracy) remained the largest party. The SDA had been founded by Alija Izetbegović, President of Bosnia in 1990-96 and one of the participants in the negotiations leading up to the Dayton Agreement. Today, the party is led by Sulejman Tihić.

Other Bosnian parties include SBB BiH (Alliance for a Better Future in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Savez za bolju budućnost BiH), formed in 2009 by media magnate Fahrudin Radončić, as well as SBiH (Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Stranka za Bosnu, Somcovov, Somcovov) led by Haris Silajdžić (for a period of Bosnian representative in the presidency) and after a break from the SDA in 1996 with the aim of amending the Dayton Agreement and turning Bosnia and Herzegovina into a single state; however, the party has lost significance.

Among the Croats, the nationalist HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union, Hrvatska Democratic Zajednica) was challenged by the breakaway party HDZ-1990, which in the 2010 elections formed a coalition with the conservative HSP BiH (Croatian Rights Party in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hrvatska stranka prava Bosne in Hercegovina).

In the presidential elections that took place at the same time as the parliamentary elections, Bakir Izetbegović (bosniak, son of Alija), Željko Komšić (croat) and Nebojša Radmanović (serb) were elected to the joint presidential council; the latter two were re-elected.

After the 2010 parliamentary elections, it took more than a year before, among other things after international pressure, to succeed in bringing together six parties in a coalition government: SDP, SNSD, SDA, HDZ BiH, HDZ 1990 and SDS; Bosnian croat Vjekoslav Bevanda (HDZ BiH), former finance minister of the Bosnian-Croatian federation, was appointed prime minister.

New parliamentary and presidential elections would be held by autumn 2014.

For a more detailed account of the events in Bosnia and Herzegovina since 1996, see Annual overviews. Compare the History section.


The complicated constitution that applies to the republic, which gained its basic features through the Dayton Agreement in 1995, has direct repercussions on the judiciary as well. State formation includes two administrative units (entities) – the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Serbian Republic – and the District of Brčko. The judicial system is regulated in the units’ internal regulations. The Stabilization and Association Agreement concluded in June 2008 between the new state formation, on the one hand, and the EU, on the other, requires, among other things, that cooperation between the various jurisdictions be developed and coordinated.

In a summer 2010 report, the European Parliament notes, among other things, significant problems in the judiciary. Legislative work is not harmonized between the state and the entities, the structure of the judiciary is complicated and the judiciary is the subject of political interference. One conclusion of the report is that the functioning of the judiciary is undermined and that this hampers reform efforts in the country. Thus, much work remains to be done in the area of the judiciary over the next few years. The death penalty was finally abolished in 2001. Already in 1997, this penalty had been abolished for most crimes.

Human Rights

During the civil war of 1992–95 (see History), the population was subjected to extensive abuse. Thousands of people, especially Bosnian Muslims, were murdered or driven from their homes and territories.

The Dayton Agreement ended the war, but the new independent Bosnia and Herzegovina was a fragile and ethnically divided state. The war years and the transition from communism almost wiped out the middle class and at the same time drove the working class into poverty.

Unemployment has been high since the end of the war and has not changed significantly in the 2010s. Women and young people have a particularly hard time entering the labor market and it is just as difficult for ethnic minorities, especially Roma. The Roma are the most vulnerable group in the country. They are discriminated against in everything from political representation to the right to a fair standard of living, often living as internal refugees in informal settlements and lacking access to basic social rights.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has strong and progressive legislation that provides legal protection for all citizens, and in addition there are institutions to ensure compliance with the laws. Despite this, there is a lack of respect for human rights and major shortcomings in how these laws are applied. The institutions are weak and have low capacity. In some respects politicians also lack the will to ensure that the laws are implemented.

Press freedom has slowly deteriorated. In two years, Bosnia has fallen over twenty places in Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. The reason for the race is to find that threats, harassment and violence against journalists have become more common, especially when reporting corruption, and that self-censorship has thus increased. In 2015, Bosnia ranked 66 out of 180 countries surveyed.

Girls and women who are exploited as sex slaves have an extra exposed position. Since the Bosnian legislation does not distinguish between sex slavery and prostitution, the exploited women risk being prosecuted for prostitution if they report that they have been exploited in human trafficking. This type of double punishment leads to criminal offenses of this type being reported.

LGBTQ people also lack community support and are stigmatized in society. Compare Social Conditions.

Heads of State


1990-96 * Alija Izetbegović
1996-98 ** Alija Izetbegović
1998-99 Zivko Radišić
1999-2000 Ante Jelavić
2000 Alija Izetbegović
2000-01 Živko Radišić
2001-02 Jozo Križanović
2002 Beriz Belkić
2002-03 Mirko Šarović
2003 Borislav Paravac
2003-04 Dragan Čović
2004 Sulejman Tihić
2004-05 Borislav Paravac
2005-06 Ivo Miro Jović
2006 Sulejman Tihić
2006-07 Nebojša Radmanović
2007-08 Željko Komšić
2008 Haris Silajdžić
2008-09 Nebojša Radmanović
2009-10 Željko Komšić
2010 Haris Silajdžić
2010-11 Nebojša Radmanović
2011-12 Željko Komšić
2012 Bakir Izetbegović
2012-13 Nebojša Radmanović
2013-14 Željko Komšić
2014 Bakir Izetbegović
2014-15 Mladen Ivanić
2015-16 Dragan Čović
2016 Bakir Izetbegović
2016-17 Mladen Ivanić
2017-18 Dragan Čović
2018 Bakir Izetbegović
2018-19 Milorad Dodik
2019-20 Željko Komšić
2020 Šefik Džaferović

* Independence proclaimed in 1992.
** Since 1996, the title has been President of the Presidential Council, a collective presidency made up of three members of different ethnic origins with rotating presidencies.

Bosnia and Herzegovina Head of Government

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