CRISISWEB: The International Crisis Group on-line system
CrisisWeb Projects around the world
home ICG Projects  
Electioneering in Republika Srpska
ICG Bosnia Project, August, 1996

This report is the fruit of extensive time spent in western Republika Srpska, in particular in Banja Luka, and interviews with all the key personalities, political parties and opposition media organs as well as key figures in the international community there. It introduces the key players and sets out the main themes of the election.


  • The election campaign will be highly nationalistic. To have any chance of winning, parties have to represent themselves as Serb nationalists working to enhance the Serb cause in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

  • Two very different election campaigns are being fought in the two parts of Republika Srpska. Opposition to the ruling Srpska demokratska stranka (SDS) is greatest in the west around Banja Luka since this part of Republika Srpska is most vulnerable and would naturally be bound closely to Croatia.

  • Two opposition coalitions have emerged which may challenge the ruling SDS. These are the centre-right Democratic Patriotic Block (Demokratski patriotski blok) and the left-leaning Alliance for Progress and Peace (Savez za progres i mir). The Patriotic Block is a five-party coalition which has gathered around Predrag Radic, the Mayor of Banja Luka. Though Radic is compromised in Bosnian Croat and Muslim eyes, he represents a more internationally-acceptable nationalist alternative to the SDS. The Alliance for Progress and Peace is a five-party coalition of left-leaning parties. The most important party in the alliance is the Socialist Party of Republika Srpska (SPRS) which is linked to Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party in Serbia. Both the Democratic Patriotic Block and the Alliance for Progress and Peace support the Dayton Agreement with reservations and for practical reasons are keen to work together with the international community.

  • The two opposition coalitions have attempted to find common ground to defeat the SDS. As a result, they are fielding a joint candidate in the critical ballot for the Serb representative of the Bosnian Presidency. The joint candidate is Mladen Ivanic, the head of the Serb Intellectual Forum, who does not belong to any political party.

  • Many of the most well-known opposition figures have chosen not to stand in the elections. For example, neither Miroslav Dodik, leader of the Independent Social-Democrats nor Miodrag Zivanovic, president of the Social-Liberal Party, the two most celebrated heretics in Republika Srpska are candidates. The reasoning behind this move is defensive - the opposition does not wish to give the SDS any ammunition to accuse it of being unpatriotic.

  • The SDS retains a tight grip on the media with regular purges to ensure unswerving loyalty among journalists. As a result of OSCE pressure, state television is now giving opposition parties 90 minutes on television to present themselves. However, the programmes are little more than an attempt by the SDS to smear the opposition.

  • The SDS has already begun to exert pressure on the electorate and in particular displaced persons. It does this via the allocation of housing, jobs and the distribution of humanitarian aid. In this way the SDS has persuaded displaced Serbs from the federation to register to vote in Republika Srpska. The closer we come to an election and the greater the challenge to the SDS, the more electoral gerrymandering we can expect.

  • The SDS thrives off fear and the strength of the other nationalist parties, the SDA and HDZ. The opposition believes that arresting Radovan Karadzic and/or Ratko Mladic in the run-up to the election is likely to add to the climate of fear in Republika Srpska and boost the SDS at their expense.


Elections are scheduled to take place in Republika Srpska on 14 September at five levels. These are at the municipal level, for the National Assembly, the President, the Serb representative in the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the House of Representatives of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The complexity of the election and, in particular, the existence of an estimated 350,000 displaced voters within Republika Srpska and another 315,000 in Yugoslavia makes fertile ground for electoral gerrymandering.


Elections are a critical element of the Dayton process and, under the terms of the peace agreement, must take place by 14 September.

To date only the military element of the Dayton Agreement has been implemented thanks to 60,000 foreign troops. All other aspects have been blocked by the existing political leadership of Republika Srpska. Elections are a chance for an alternative leadership to come forward. If the absolute hold of the nationalists on power can be broken or at least loosened, it may become possible to begin implementing the civilian aspects of the Dayton Agreement.


While close to 20 Serb parties/coalitions are standing in the Republika Srpska elections, there is little difference between political programmes. Most of the minor parties contesting the elections are Serb nationalists whose principal objection to the ruling Srpska demokratska stranka (Serb Democratic Party or SDS) is that it failed to prosecute the war successfully.

Seven parties/coalitions have put up candidates for president of Republika Srpska. Six of these are Serb parties but the Muslim Stranka demokratske akcije (Democratic Action Party), the ruling party in the Federation, is also fielding a candidate.

Sixteen parties/coalitions have put up candidates for the national assembly of Republika Srpska. Seven of these, including Women of BiH, the Party for BiH and the SDA, are from the Federation.

Of the nationalist opposition to the SDS virtually all would throw in their lot with the ruling party if push came to shove. Most, however, including Arkan's Stranka Srpskog jedinstva (Serb Unity Party) are unlikely to win much support in the elections. The sole exception is Vojislav Seselj's extreme nationalist Srpska radikalna stranka Republike Srpske which will definitely form a post-election coalition with the SDS.

The following is not a comprehensive analysis of every party standing in the election and its platform. It is an examination of the likely electoral battle between the SDS and the two opposition coalitions which could pose a threat to the ruling party.


Two credible opposition coalitions have emerged which pose some threat to the ruling Srpska demokratska stranka (Serb Democratic Party or SDS). These are the Demokratski patriotski blok (Democratic Patriotic Block) and the Savez za progres i mir (Alliance for Progress and Peace).

Both of the opposition coalitions are centred on Banja Luka and draw most support from the half of Republika Srpska west of Brcko. This region is the most vulnerable part of Republika Srpska and was close to falling to last year's Muslim-Croat offensive. Moreover, Banja Luka is more than twice as large as Bijelina, Republika Srpska's second city, with a history of opposition to the Pale authorities including a military revolt in September 1993.

The Democratic Patriotic Block consists of five small political parties each of which has a regional base and following. These are the Stranka demokratskog centra Trebinje (Trebinje Party of the Democratic Centre), Seljacka radnicka stranka Kozarske Dubice (Kozarska Dubica Peasant Workers Party), Demokratska stranka Bijelina (Bijelina Democratic Party), Nova radikalna stranka "Nikola Pasic" (New Radical Party of Nikola Pasic) and Otadzbinska stranka Banja Luka (Banja Luka Homeland Party). In practice, however, the prospects of the Democratic Patriotic Block depend on the popularity and electoral appeal of Predrag Radic, the mayor of Banja Luka, and the coalition's candidate for President of Republika Srpska.

Radic, 55, has been mayor of Banja Luka since 1991 and was until last month a member of the SDS. In the eyes of Muslims and Croats he is compromised since during his period in office the non-Serb population was expelled from Banja Luka in two waves, in 1992 and 1995 and all mosques were systematically destroyed. However, among Serbs in Banja Luka he is extremely popular and has resisted many attempts by the SDS to oust him.

Radic has fallen out with the SDS leadership in Pale because like Rajko Kasagic, his former right-hand man in Banja Luka's city government, he is a pragmatist and believes that it is in Republika Srpska's interests to co-operate with the international community. He understands that Banja Luka must open up to Croatia merely to survive economically. However, he does not advocate the return of Croat and Muslim refugees and remains in essence a hard-line Serb nationalist.

The Alliance for Progress and Peace is also a coalition of five parties. These are Socialisticka partija Republike Srpske (Socialist Party of Republika Srpska or SPRS), Jugoslovenska levica (Yugoslav Left or JUL), Socijalno-liberalna stranka (Social-Liberal Party), Stanka nezavisnih socijaldemokrata (Independent Social-Democratic Party) and the Nova radnicka partija (New Workers Party). All five parties have evolved out of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia.

The SPRS is the most powerful of the five coalition partners and its leader, Zivko Radisic, is the coalition's candidate for president of Republika Srpska. Founded in June 1993, it has forged close links with the Serbian authorities in Belgrade. As a result, the SPRS is widely viewed as Slobodan Milosevic's party and rumour has it that it has received 7 million DM from Belgrade to fight the election campaign.

Radisic is a 58-year-old former communist who held a wide range of high office under the ancien regime. He was at times mayor of Banja Luka, Minister of Defence of Yugoslavia and head of Rudi Cajavec, the most important company in Banja Luka. In the late 1980s he was a candidate to become Bosnia-Herzegovina's representative in the federal presidency of Yugoslavia but lost out to Bogic Bogicevic. He spent part of the war in Belgrade and part in a Bosnian Serb military command.

JUL is the political movement associated with Mira Markovic, wife of Slobodan Milosevic. It is an umbrella organisation linking together the few remaining communists.

The link between SPRS and Slobodan Milosevic and JUL and Mira Markovic compromises the coalition in the eyes of some of the Republika Srpska electorate. As a result, the name under which the Alliance for Progress and Peace is listed on the ballots is extremely unfortunate. It has been called the Narodni savez za slobodan mir (Peoples' Alliance for Free Peace). The problem is that the word for free is slobodan and the word for peace is mir so that the coalition sounds as if it is the alliance for Slobodan (Milosevic) and Mira (Markovic). This came about because the alliance had not come up with its official title by the deadline and submitted Narodni savez za slobodan mir to the OSCE as a temporary name. By the time all five members of the alliance had finally agreed a common name, the OSCE had already begun to print the ballots.

The most acceptable parties (in the eyes of Croats and Muslims as well as the international community) on the coalition ticket are the Social-Liberal Party and the Independent Social-Democratic Party. The Social-Liberal Party grew out of the Communist Youth movement and has consistently opposed the war. Moreover, it is the only party in Republika Srpska which advocates the return of expelled Muslims and Croats. The Independent Social-Democratic Party grew out of the Savez reformisticnih snaga, the party founded by and linked with Yugoslavia's last prime minister Ante Markovic. The party formed a 12-MP opposition block in the Pale parliament and lobbied for acceptance of all internationally-mediated peace plans.

Nature of the Campaign

Republika Srpska is a tightly-controlled society governed by a clique of no more than 15 based in Pale. As in communist times, the ruling party dominates all aspects of life including the allocation of accommodation, distribution of humanitarian aid and even employment. Since the Pale clique has staked its future on an independent Serb state carved out of Bosnia and has no interest in complying with the Dayton Agreement, it will go to any length to remain in power.

The SDS is already abusing its authority to influence the registration process. Since Pale wants the inter-entity boundary between Republika Srpska and the Federation to become a permanent division, it is forcing displaced Serbs from the Federation to register to vote in Republika Srpska. It achieves this by insisting on seeing the OSCE's Cyrillic form 2, that indicating change of municipality, before distributing any form of benefit. To date, close to 140,000 displaced Serbs in Republika Srpska have completed form 2. This compares with about 15,000 in the Federation.

In addition, opposition parties complain that they and their members are coming under pressure to halt their activities. The SPRS, for example, claims that there have already been 18 unresolved incidents in which party members or facilities were attacked.

Otherwise, the media and in particular state television is the SDS's principal electoral tool. As during the war, state television serves exclusively to back the ruling elite and smear all opposition, whether within Republika Srpska, in the Federation or abroad. It sets the electoral agenda in clear nationalist terms and portrays the Pale clique as the legitimate defenders of Serb interests. The issues which state television has been using and will now milk to the SDS's advantage are the alleged persecution campaign against Radovan Karadzic, US arming of the Federation's Muslims and Croats and the threat to Serbs of the SDA putting up candidates in Republika Srpska.

Media Battle

Under pressure from the OSCE, state television agreed to open up some political programming to all parties standing in the elections. As a result, each political party and coalition has one and a half hours on state television to present itself to the Republika Srpska electorate before the elections. Each night between 8.30 and 10 pm, therefore, a different party, including those from the Federation which are standing, has its turn and the running order was determined by drawing lots.

While in theory these broadcasts go some way to informing the Republika Srpska electorate of their options, in practice they serve as yet another opportunity for the ruling party to smear the opposition. The programmes are clearly rehearsed in advance and viewers' calls and questions are carefully selected. Instead of allowing parties to develop their own programmes, most opposition representatives find themselves fending off personal questions about what they were doing during the war, whether they were in the Bosnian Serb army, if they were in the army whether they saw action in the front lines and so on.

At present, head to head debates between political parties and candidates are not envisaged. Moreover, during the 22 and a half hours a day which are not earmarked for political party presentations, the SDS can and does serve up a diet of partisan and twisted misinformation.

The SDS can also rely on the bulk of the print media and radio in Republika Srpska which it purges on a regular basis to ensure maximum fidelity. The editor of Glas Srpski, the only daily in Republika Srpska, has already been changed twice this year and journalists at state radio in Banja Luka have recently organised strikes and go-slows to protest at political interference. And when independent station SiM in Bijelina did not toe the official line, it was rapidly taken over.

On the eve of elections the number of television stations in Republika Srpska is about to mushroom. New stations should shortly be broadcasting in Banja Luka, Doboj and possibly even Srebrenica. However, virtually all new stations will effectively be serving the ruling party since the existing authorities determine who can obtain the necessary frequency. For example, the first station in Banja Luka likely to get off the ground will not have any news content. Instead, it will show almost exclusively films, including some pornography, thus effectively diverting attention from the election campaign.

The two opposition coalitions look to four newspapers Nezavisne Novine and Novi Prelom from Banja Luka, Panorama from Bijelina and Alternativa from Doboj for support. However, while there is an attempt to launch a daily in the run-up to the elections, at present only one paper, Nezavisne Novine, comes out weekly. The other three are fortnightly. Moreover, the price (between 2 and 5 Yugoslav dinars a copy) puts them beyond the budget of many people who only see newspapers courtesy of friends.

One radio station broadcasting from Banja Luka also effectively serves the opposition. Radio Krajina is a rather strange affair run by Colonel Milovan Milutinovic, former spokesman for Ratko Mladic. Since it is hostile to the current authorities, it has not officially been allocated a frequency and operates as a pirate station on the eighth floor of a military building. It uses all sources for its news service, including obviously Croat and Muslim information, and broadcasts an evening discussion programme to which it invites all political parties. Milutinovic claims that Radio Krajina can be heard as far away as Zagreb in Croatia and in Doboj.

However, all opposition parties are looking to television to boost their electoral chances. Predrag Radic, for example, claims that he will soon have his own television station in Banja Luka. And the SPRS is hoping that somehow Milosevic will provide them with a station. They are sceptical of the international community's attempts to open up the media in Bosnia-Herzegovina and do not expect any international projects to have much of an impact on the election.

The OSCE's Swiss-financed election radio station has been broadcasting since mid-July and covers about two-thirds of Republika Srpska. However, nobody, including opposition politicians, appears aware of its existence, and even the couple of journalists who file for it from Banja Luka do not know the frequency on which it broadcasts. The principal problem with the station is simply that it comes from the Federation and is therefore suspect to Serb minds. It is headquartered in Sarajevo and relies on the same stringers who already file for foreign news services such as RFI, RFE and VOA to cover Republika Srpska.

The Open Broadcast Network or TVIN as it is now called will not be broadcasting before mid-August at the earliest. This $11 million project to create an alternative television station for the whole of Bosnia-Herzegovina will also be headquartered in Sarajevo, but will at least have a professional team of journalists imported from Belgrade to provide programming from Banja Luka.

Opposition Tactics

Since state-controlled television is setting the political agenda, the two opposition coalitions are fighting a defensive campaign and largely find themselves responding to SDS allegations. Nevertheless, they remain keen on a September poll which they view as the only way to oust the current leadership. They do not wish to see elections postponed, since they fear that the delay will only give the SDS more time to exert its malign influence over all aspects of society.

Indicative of the defensive campaign is the fact that the most celebrated opposition figures have chosen not to stand as candidates in the elections. Miodrag Zivanovic, president of the Social-Liberal Party, Miroslav Dodik, leader of the Independent Social-Democrats, and Mico Carevic, head of the League of Communists - Movement for Yugoslavia, as well as Rajko Kasagic, the former prime minister who fell out with Pale and was ousted, are not on the ballot. In the case of Zivanovic, Dodik and Carevic, it seems that all three stepped down for fear that their candidature would do more damage than good to their coalitions. They did not want the coalition to be tainted by their own anti-war stance during the conflict. In the case of Kasagic, it seems that the SDS might have used his record in Banja Luka's government against him.

Otherwise, the coalitions have formed an electoral pact in the interests of defeating the SDS to the effect that they will not criticise each other. They are putting up a joint candidate in the critical battle for Serb member of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina to fight Momcilo Krajisnik, the most powerful SDS politician. However, the coalitions failed to agree a joint candidate for president and thus both Radic and Radisic are standing.

With an injection of 600,000 DM from the OSCE for each coalition money will no longer be a great obstacle to the campaign. More problematic is access to the most influential media, in particular state television. As a result, the coalitions are planning to base their election campaign around door to door canvassing.

The opposition's wish list to the international community in the run-up to the election is simple: drop the obsession with Karadzic and Mladic at least until after the vote and pressurise state television into accepting head to head debates between the key candidates. They feel that the disproportionate attention which the international community pays to Karadzic and Mladic only contributes to the SDS's electoral appeal. They also believe that unless candidates can cross-examine each other, they will not have a chance to discredit the SDS.


Seven candidates are standing for president of Republika Srpska. Of these, three are serious contenders, namely Biljana Plavsic for the SDS, Predrag Radic for the Democratic Patriotic Block and Zivko Radisic for the Alliance for Progress and Peace. In addition, the SDA has a candidate who should pick up the vote of Muslim refugees and displaced persons expelled from Republika Srpska during the war.

Since there is to be only one round of voting, the candidate who wins the most votes on the day will become president. And because there are seven candidates, it is theoretically possible for the president of Republika Srpska to be elected with just 15 per cent of the vote. This flaw in the electoral system and the appearance of the SDA on the ballot both play into the hands of the Biljana Plavsic. For floating voters are likely to back the SDS rather than divide the Serb vote and risk seeing a Muslim elected by absentee ballot on a minority poll.

According to early and rather crude opinion polls carried out by Nezavisne Novine, both Predrag Radic and Zivko Radisic have a similar rating and currently command more support than Biljana Plavsic. Nevertheless, if the opposition is serious about defeating the SDS, one man will have to step down and endorse the other as the joint candidate of both coalitions before the vote.

Republika Srpska Representative in the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina

Arguably the most important electoral battle is that for the Republika Srpska representative in the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina. While there are four candidates it should be a two horse race between Momcilo Krajisnik of the SDS and Mladen Ivanic the joint candidate of both opposition coalitions.

Momcilo Krajisnik needs no introduction. He is speaker in the Bosnian Serb parliament and generally viewed as the most powerful and dangerous man in Pale. Financially he has done remarkably well out of the war and will have to fend off charges of being a war profiteer. In addition, he is too compromised to wish to have any contact with the federation. So that his election, or rather reelection, would clearly be a disaster both for Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Dayton Agreement.

Mladen Ivanic, the challenger, is a 38-year-old economics professor who does not belong to any political party but heads the Serb Intellectual Forum. He was selected by both coalitions because his record is clean and, having briefly served in the Bosnian Serb army during the war, he cannot be accused of a lack of patriotism. Moreover, he already has some high-level political experience which he acquired under communism in the last years of Yugoslavia. In 1988 Ivanic joined the Bosnian presidency in Sarajevo via the youth wing of the League of Communists and remained there as a Serb representative until the hand-over of power to the nationalist victors of the 1990 elections.

Ivanic has written the preface of a book explaining the Dayton Agreement and pointing out why it is a good settlement both for Republika Srpska and Serbs in general. The coalitions plan to print up about 500 copies and to launch Ivanic as their candidate with book promotions around the country.

Opposition Fears/The Stakes

Since the outbreak of war in the former Yugoslavia in 1991 many of the best qualified and most promising Serbs, Croats and Muslims have left the country to seek their fortune rather than fight. Since the Dayton Agreement brought hostilities to an end, this brain drain has continued and is especially acute in Republika Srpska among men of military age. SDS victory in the September election would probably be followed by a further exodus as anybody with any prospects of a life outside Bosnia-Herzegovina votes with their feet.

The fear among "normal" people is that SDS victory means both the resumption of war and inevitable defeat for the Serbs west of Brcko. In brief, a fate akin to that experienced last year by the Croatian Serbs in Krajina. The fear is genuine since Banja Luka too came close to falling in last year's Croat-Muslim offensive and was only saved by the Dayton Agreement. Moreover, the SDS clearly has no intention of implementing any of the Dayton Agreement.

According to the doomsday scenario, the fact that Republika Srpska refuses to play by the Dayton Agreement will allow the Federation to launch and justify a fresh offensive next spring. In addition, the fact that the USA has already begun to arm both the Muslims and the Croats indicates to worried Serbs that, just as with the Croatian Serbs of Krajina, the international community will accept the results of a lightning strike.

As a result, many opposition activists and candidates are people who have never in their life been involved in politics. However, they feel that now the stakes are so high that they have to become involved to defeat the SDS and secure their own futures in Republika Srpska.

[Bosnia Menu] [ICG Home][Back to Top]