News 06 Nov 17

Bosnian Serbs Put Referendum Decision on Ice

The entity's assembly met on Monday to discuss parking a controversial plan to hold a referendum on the state judiciary, as support for the idea contines to drain away.

Danijel Kovacevic
Banja Luka
Republika Srpska parliament. Photo: Narodna skupstina Republike Srpske

The parliament in Bosnia's Serb-majority entity, Republika Srpska, will hold a special session on Monday on shelving an earlier decision to hold a referendum on the powers of Bosnia's state-level judiciary.

The initiative to suspend the decision on the referendum on the powers of the Court and the Prosecutor's Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina comes from the ruling coalition, led by the Alliance of the Independent Social Democrats, SNSD – the same group that launched the initiative to hold the referendum more than two years ago.

In a statement, the ruling coalition blamed the opposition for the collapse of the initiative, stating that «since the opposition has withheld support for the decision to hold a referendum in the RS on the Court and the Prosecutor's Office of BiH, that decision should be temporarily withdrawn until a consensus is reached».

Until then, it added, the coalition supported a new initiative to organize a petition containing a question that is identical to the referendum question, and obtain at least 500,000 signatures for it.

The decision to suspend the controversial referendum, which both the country's Bosniak politicians and the international community opposed, comes less than two weeks before the deadline for its implementation was due to expire.

The move was expected after Milorad Dodik, the RS President and the leader of the SNSD, on September 19 announced an intention to suspend the call for a referendum.

The ruling majority in the RS assembly passed a decision to call a referendum in July 2015.

However, it was not published in the Official Gazette of the RS until September 20 this year, drawing criticism from opposition parties who claimed that Dodik had manipulated the issue to gain support in elections.

Responding to such criticism, Dodik said he would hold a referendum if and when a national consensus was reached and once all parties supported holding it. According to him, such support had not followed.

On Saturday, he recalled that the opposition parties in the RS were in power at state level in Bosnia an accused them of treachery.

"If we were to conduct a referendum, and I believe people would support it, one should implement it in joint institutions, and we are not convinced that the opposition parties would do that. They have shown that they are notorious traitors who are running away from every kind of work that is important for the Republika Srpska," he said.

Dodik added that he would call on people in the RS to sign the new petition, which will contain a referendum question, with the aim of revealing what people in RS think of the BiH Court and Prosecutor’s Office. He would then talk with the political representatives of the Bosnian Croats about jointly signing the petition.

"This referendum is not rejected, it is only suspended, and we are looking for a new time when it will be possible to achieve a consensus," Dodik said.

The opposition bloc has responded that it will invite its members and supporters to take part in the referendum if it is implemented, accusing Dodik of having embarrassed the RS assembly by behaving deceitfully.

"His fraudulent policy is seen here. Dodik gave firm guarantees to the RS Assembly that a decision on the referendum would be held, although we said more than two years ago that we suspected his intentions and that he would never do it," Vukota Govedarica, leader of the main opposition Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, said.

"The irony is that Dodik's ruling majority, which proposed and adopted the decision to hold a referendum, has now initiated the suspension of the referendum," political analyst Srdjan Puhalo observed.

"While the political parties from the opposition bloc, who refrained from voting on the referendum in 2015, today insist on holding a referendum," he told BIRN.

"These parties did not change their stance on the referendum for ideological reasons, but estimated that holding a referendum could inflict additional political damage on Dodik, who is already under US sanctions," he continued.

The US ambassador to Bosnia, Maureen Cormack, on Friday said the RS assembly should scrap the referendum plan – not just suspend it.

"From the very beginning, we were very clear about the referendum. The suspension of the referendum leaves the possibility, however, that it will again be the subject of debate and implementation sometime in the future," Cormack said.

The last two sessions of the RS assembly ended with the police intervening, after opposition deputies physically blocked its work.

"We will decide on Monday how we will act in the session," Nedeljko Glamocak, an SDS MP, said on Friday.

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