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Monday, 14 October, 2002, 10:36 GMT 11:36 UK
Bosnia under pressure to reform
A Bosnian Muslim refugee waits in line to vote
The proposals are backed both by the Muslims and the moderate Serbs

Two of the political parties which made big gains in last week's Bosnian elections have given their cautious approval to a wide-ranging package of reforms set out by the international high representative, Lord Paddy Ashdown.

Proposed reforms
Single post of State Prime Minister
More powers for the State Cabinet
State Court starts working before the end of the year
Unifying customs
Rationalising taxation
Creating value-added tax at state level
The reforms would strengthen the weak central government, creating a single post of prime minister for the first time since the end of the Bosnian war seven years ago.

But Lord Ashdown has also set a tough timetable, giving political leaders just six months to implement the plans.

The main Bosnian Muslim nationalist party, the SDA, has given its approval to the reforms; so has the moderate Serb nationalist party, the SNSD, which performed unexpectedly well in last week's elections.

But other Serb parties have warned against tampering with the Dayton Agreement.

Power shift

What Lord Ashdown is proposing goes to the heart of Bosnia's post-war settlement.


We have to increase the pace of reform in Bosnia-Hercegovina if we're to catch up and if we are not to fail

Lord Ashdown
The Dayton Peace Accords, which the warring nationalists signed up to in 1995, gave the two ethnically based entities - the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Bosnian Serb Republic, Republika Srpska - most of the power at the expense of the central state.

The reforms would create a single post of state prime minister - instead of the current rotation every eight months between a Croat, a Muslim and a Serb.

The state cabinet would take on more responsibilities.

Paddy Ashdown
Lord Ashdown urged Bosnia to vote for reformers
And the State Court, created on paper two years ago, would finally come into existence by the end of this year.

Before the elections, Lord Ashdown warned against the dangers of voting against reform.

Now that the results are in, he says he is prepared to work with any party - nationalist or not - who is committed to reform.

Political clean-up

Speaking in a BBC interview, he denied that the elections marked a return to the nationalism of the last decade.

But he said further reforms could not be postponed.

"Time is not on our side," Lord Ashdown told the BBC.

"This requires the new government to work, and work quickly. We have to increase the pace of reform in Bosnia-Hercegovina if we're to catch up and if we are not to fail."

And he added: "Those reforms have to be about government, about cleaning up politics, they have to be about establishing law, and they have to be about economic reform. If we don't do these things, and we don't do them quickly, then what this country risks is far greater than anything we've seen,"

Paradoxes of Dayton

Lord Ashdown says he is proposing the reforms, not imposing them - as he has the power to do.

But it may yet come to that.


In the past, we have allowed Dayton to be used by the obstructionists. Dayton is our floor, we cannot undermine it, but it is what we build on Dayton that matters

Paddy Ashdown
It will be weeks, if not months, until any governments are formed. Even then, quick action would be uncharacteristic.

The economic side of the reforms is seemingly more mundane: unifying customs, rationalising taxation and creating a value-added tax at state level.

But they are a vital part of strengthening the state.

At the moment, the central government has no powers to raise money of its own through taxation: it is entirely dependent on allocations from the two entities.

"These [reforms] are all within Dayton," Lord Ashdown argued.

"In the past, we have allowed Dayton to be used by the obstructionists. Dayton is our floor, we cannot undermine it, but it is what we build on Dayton that matters."

The plan is ambitious; the timescale even more so.

If the incoming authorities are unwilling or unable to act, it may be that Lord Ashdown will have no option but to impose the reforms by decree.

That would once again expose one of the fundamental paradoxes of Dayton: the absolute power of the international community to impose democracy, good governance and the rule of law.

See also:

06 Oct 02 | Europe
04 Oct 02 | Europe
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