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U.S. Envoy For Bosnian Election Reform Seeks 'Limited, Targeted' Constitutional Change

Matthew Palmer, the U.S. special envoy in Bosnia-Herzegovina for election reform, during an interview with RFE/RL's Balkan Service on November 26.
Matthew Palmer, the U.S. special envoy in Bosnia-Herzegovina for election reform, during an interview with RFE/RL's Balkan Service on November 26.

A special U.S. envoy for election reform in Bosnia-Herzegovina has told RFE/RL's Balkan Service ahead of a trip to the region that Washington sees "limited, targeted constitutional change" as a key aspect of a reform push ahead of elections next year.

Bosnia has been in a protracted political crisis as its Serb entity threatens secession and Bosnian Croats complain they are underrepresented in the country's ethnically-apportioned structures.

U.S. officials have been pressing for electoral reforms in time to ensure broad participation in an election scheduled for next October.

"The message that we will be bringing to the leaders of the various political parties and to others is -- now is the time for action," Mathew Palmer, special envoy for election reform in Bosnia, told RFE/RL on November 26.

"Everybody understands the nature of the problems that we are looking at, everybody understands the nature of the compromises that are necessary, and now is the time for leadership, now is the time for difficult choices… in order to help Bosnia-Herzegovina move forward towards a European future,” Palmer said ahead of his arrival in the Balkan country on November 27.

Bosnia's governing structures remain ethnically divided under a U.S.-brokered peace accord that ended a 1992-95 war.

The Dayton accords created two entities in Bosnia: the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation. The country is governed and administered along ethnic lines established by the agreement, with a weak and often dysfunctional central government.

"This is not a negotiation that has two parties. This is about all of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the future direction of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the integrity of the electoral process across the country. So there are going to be multiple stakeholders," Palmer said.

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, the Serbian representative in the ethnically-apportioned tripartite presidency, has been threatening to withdraw from state-level institutions, including Bosnia's joint judiciary, military, and tax administration. He has brushed aside international concerns that such an agenda could spark renewed conflict in the ethnically divided Balkan country.

U.S. President Joe Biden's administration has renewed a push for diplomacy to resolve the political crisis, working with European and regional partners to ensure the country's territorial integrity and compliance with the peace deal.

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote a letter to members of the presidency, calling for a commitment to the Dayton accords and reforms to the country’s election law and limited constitutional reforms.

"One of the key aspects of the [electoral] reform process -- as we look at it -- is limited, targeted constitutional change to help Bosnia-Herzegovina meet its obligations to the European Union and come into compliance with the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights," Palmer said.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and EU officials have said Bosnia's current, ethnically defined representation is problematic.

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