September’s elections have lumbered Bosnia and Herzegovina with a president who insists that the country should not exist.
Milorad Dodik was formerly the leader of Republika Srpska, the part of Bosnia where most ethnic Serbs live. He has constantly agitated for its secession and says he won’t set foot in Sarajevo’s presidency building.
But Dodik must share his job with representatives of the country’s other two main ethnic groups. Sefik Dzaferovic holds the Bosniak Muslim seat, while Croat Zeljko Komsic has a Serb mother and a Bosniak wife. He’s promised to represent all Bosnians – and started by picking a fight with Croatia’s prime minister.
Low political engagement is a widespread problem. But a recent survey of people from 14 countries with a range of political systems offers some surprising insight into just what issues are most likely to ignite a population’s passions.
A report from Pew Research Centre asked nearly 15,000 people from every continent what matter was most likely to inspire political action. Topping the list in 13 out of 14 countries? Poor health care. The most oft-discussed issues in political discourse – government corruption and discrimination – were low on the list.
A star recruit to Pedro Sánchez’s hastily formed government (after a censure motion flung Spain’s Socialists into power last June) constitutional lawyer Meritxell Batet has been tasked with the sobering task of de-escalating tensions between Catalonian secessionists and the central government. With many still reeling from the violence-marred independence vote in 2017, the legal ramifications of a unilateral (and illegal) proclamation of the Catalan Republic three weeks later, and the subsequent sacking of the Catalan government, 2018 has seen the situation stagnate into stalemate.
At first glance, Batet’s portfolio is complicated by the raft of secessionist leaders awaiting trial or living abroad as fugitives in self-imposed exile but the Barcelona-born minister is intent on employing a longer and more level-headed strategy to address this Iberian impasse.
MONOCLE: Has your government been able to reduce pre-existing tensions between the regional and national governments?
MERITXELL BATET: When we came into government we were faced with a breakdown of basic relations between regional and national institutions. One of our main priorities is re-establishing institutional normality, based on protocol and mutual respect. After a seven-year hiatus the bilateral commission between Catalan authorities and the national government is up and running once more. Government ministers and their regional counterparts have already met on several occasions.
M: The rhetoric from the new Catalan government still appears to be much of the same though.
MB: The secessionists fear angering their base. One of the biggest issues at the moment is that the secessionist bloc lacks a united strategy. Their previous strategy didn’t work and caused a lot of suffering for a society that deserved much better – and I say this as a Barcelona-born Catalan.
M: While a referendum has been repeatedly knocked back by authorities in Madrid, why did prime minister Sánchez recently moot the possibility of a new plebiscite in Catalonia?
MB: A referendum on self-determination is prohibited in our constitution. Beyond the legal restrictions, I believe it is not a politically desirable option because a yes/no vote tends to sharpen lines of social division. It’s polarising. The prime minister suggested a vote on the future make-up of self-government – but not self-determination. We want to reach a broader agreement based on consensus across the political aisles and which doesn’t end up alienating half of the population.
Nearly two years after his legal mandate ended, President Joseph Kabila surprised everybody by announcing he would not seek re-election in December’s long-delayed polls. His hand-picked successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, has had his way cleared by the exclusion of his strongest rivals.
Observers believe the electoral register includes both the deceased and unborn and suspect new electronic voting machines will enable fraud. A poll by the New York-based Congo Research Group found nearly two-thirds of Congolese do not trust the election commission, while none have faith in the security forces, led by Kabila allies. The 23 December poll will further unsettle this chronically unstable country where armed rebellions are flaring, Ebola is spreading and greedy neighbours are eyeing opportunities in the expected unrest.