Bosnian electoral system

I think the nature of the presidency has changed fundamentally in the last nine years, to the point where these discussions actually become worthwhile. At a time when nobody took the central government seriously (because it wasn’t there most of the time) the three members of the presidency were the only real representation of the constituent peoples at state level. The arrangements made in 1995 and implemented in 1996 made quite a lot of sense in the context of the times.

I can see a good argument that things have now changed. The BiH parliament and other institutions now function and actually carry serious bits of work, including in particular increasing control over the use of force (police, army, SBS, etc). The presidency has been reduced to the status of a figurehead.

Since the presidency is meant to represent three constituent people rather than two entities, there is a very good case for removing the entity-structure of the electoral system and treating the whole of BiH as a single electoral unit. At present the member of the presidency elected from the RS represents all RS voters rather than Serbs, and while this has sometimes suited the international agenda (as with the election of me good friend Zivko Radisic in 1998) it doesn’t really enable the institution to do the job it was intended to do.

Once you’ve decided to treat the whole of BiH as a single unit, I think there are some things you can’t do. I reckon you have to stick with the concept that your election produces one Serb, one Croat and one Bosniak winner, rather than a single president; unless the Council of Europe really insists on the latter point. I don’t much like the concept of constituent peoples but it is in the constitution as the basis for a lot of other stuff which I do like and it is also a practical reassurance to Croats and Serbs that BiH will not become a cold house for them.

There are then three (and a half) options:

1) each voter gets three votes (ie gets a vote for a Serb, a vote for a Croat and a vote for a Bosniak). Actually a bad idea. Effectively the Croat representative will be chosen by non-Croats, and quite likely the Serb by non-Serbs. Totally kills off the concept of linkage between elector and representative. If you try and fiddle around with it to correct this, so that each voter gets different power of their vote depending on ethnicity, things get really silly and unimplementable. (The International Crisis Group published a couple of papers on this way back in 1997-98. I thought they were stupid then and I think they are stupid now.)

2) each voter gets one vote, with some restrictions on who can vote for which candidate, to reassure Serb and Croat fears that their candidate will be chosen by Bosniaks. Actually this is also very difficult to implement, unless every single elector is identified ethnically on the electoral roll (which I would find very problematic), or unless you restrict distribution of ballot papers for candidates in areas where nobody of “their” ethnicity lives (but since we haven’t had a census, this is not possible). So I think it can’t be done.

3) Each voter gets one vote, cast for whichever candidate they like; Serb with most votes, Croat with most votes and Bosniak with most votes are the three winners. Really I think this is the only variant that makes sense. Since result is particularly uncertain, voters will be most likely to cast vote for candidate they are personally most interested in; but also incentives for all candidates to attempt to appeal to voters of all ethnicities as all are potential voters.

I say “three and a half” options because there are still (at least) two important considerations with regard to the last one:

a) do you present all candidates on a single list, or three separate lists (though on the same piece of paper and close together)? It may just be a presentational issue but I like the idea of putting them all on the same list, even if the counting process is effectively separate.

b) do you use the X vote or single transferable vote? As you know my heart is with the single transferable vote, but if you’ve gone for the single-list presentation you can’t really do the vote transfers. On the other hand it’s easy to implement if you have three separate lists on the same piece of paper.

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