Issue No. 168 - April 3, 2000.
1. Russia: PUTIN'S EPOCH
By Arkady Dubnov
2. Belarus: AGONY OF A REGIME
By Paulyuk Bykowski
3. Georgia: CONTEST WITHOUT CONTEST
By Ivlian Haindrava
4. Bosnia and Hercegovina: NEW TEST
By Radenko Udovicic
Russia: PUTIN'S EPOCH
By Arkady Dubnov
Vladimir Putin is completely adequate to Russian society as it exists today. This is because Putin is as unknown as the society that elected him. "Russia can't be understood with the mind, Russia can only be believed in," the subtle Russian poet Fedor Tyutchev wrote more than 100 years ago. A large part of his 52.5% of the voters (out of the 68% of eligible voters who went to the polls on March 26) trust the 47-year-old leader more than they know what to expect from him. Such inclinations were already clearly seen in the parliamentary elections in Russia on December 19, 1999. The victory of the Unity bloc, the latest party of power, founded just a few months before during Vladimir Putin's primiership, showed that there is still no structured civil society in Russia, such as would normally display stable political sympathies and not allow the sudden appearance of of new political forces that could expect the serious support of the electorate. In other words, people are infinitely tired of the same pack of politicians, who, in ten years of post-Soviet history, have been unable to show the Russians that they are even able to lead them back to the stable lifestyle--one that guaranteed a piece of cheap sausage and a ten rouble raise every five years--that they had become accustomed to during the decades of the Soviet regime.
Putin has not, incidentally, promised even that much. He only thing he can suggest to the people who voted for him is the imposition of order. They intuitively see in him a "strong hand" that will put an end to corruption and banditry. It may be more important for a Russian that he seems like the kind of leader who can give him back the feeling of living in a great power, maybe one that is not especially rich, but mighty any way, "so that, even if they don't fear us, at least they'll respect us like before..." It is Putin's KGB backgroung that inspires such confidence in him. As a former intelligence agent, albeit a not high-placed or particularly distinguished one, Putin was raised in the spirit of corporate devotion to the greatness of his country, as the average Russian demands. It should not be forgotten that the halo of the "valient intelligence man," which many generations of Soviets were raised with, is still attractive to the post-Soviet Russian, humiliated by his country's defeats over the past ten years. It should be added that the quantitative results of the elections were predicted rather well by sociologists. The only question was whether or not Putin would surpass the 50%-barrier or face a second round. The only surprise was that communist leader Zyuganov picked up 30% of the vote while the leader of the democrats, Yavlinsky, received no more than 6%. But those figures do not change the discussion above--the first case is the action of the protest vote uniting against Yeltsin's successor, and the second was weariness with the eternal opposition democrat. Now a few words about the immediate outlook. In the month leading up to the inauguration of the new president, which will take place May 6-7, Putin is unlikely to make any sharp turns in foreign or domestic policy.
The new government will be "technical" and probably be led by current vice premier Mikhail Kasyanov. The new prime minister, unlike in Yeltsin's time, will not be a political figure and, at the beginning, the new government's workings will be supervised by president Putin personally. Half a year's premiership gave him a good foundation for keeping a grip on the actual processes of managing the country. Furthermore, Putin cannot allow himself a well-promoted political figure in the office of prime minister, one like Anatoly Chubais, for example, who might overshadow the president. In addition, one of the promises that Putin has already made is to "remove all the oligarchs from power." That means that he will try to distance himself from the influence of such people as Berezovsky, as well as Berezovsky's political opponent Chubais. There will not be a coalition govnment in Russia. It is not required by the constitution, which envisages a presidential, not parliamentary, republic (federation). Therefore, in spite of the communists' firm second place in the presidential elections and their real weight in the Duma, Putin's absolute victory gives him the opportunity to form a "government of professionals," without regard for the political coloring of his ministers. The same can be said in regard to Yavlinksy and his supporters, not to mention that the Yabloko leader would never join the Putin government. If the communists will have any real influence on the new government, it will be only as much as the Kremlin allows them. This was confirmed by the unsuccessful attempt by the communist party in the Duma on March 29 to carry through a decision to appeal to the Constitutional Court of Russia to declare the first decree of acting president Putin "On Guarantees to First President of Russia Boris Yeltsin and Members of His Family" illegal. The new Russian leader's route to the transformation of the economy will be determined by the initiatives put forward by the pro-Putin majority in the Duma in the near future. Maybe the adoption of a Land Code, fully legalizing private ownership of land, will finally be approved, maybe the steep income tax rates will be lowered, and so on. Union of Right Forces leaders Sergei Kirienko and the above-mentioned Chubais, having supported Putin in the elections, are now counting on the renewal of liberal reforms. But it is doubtful that Putin will take such radical steps in the near future, before he has built up a certain amount of political capital in society, and that depends more than anything else on successfully wrapping up the military operation in Chechnya. It should not be forgotten that it was Putin's determination to "put an end to the Chechen bandits" that gave him such high popularity among the majority of Russians. In the past few days, new elements have been detected in Putin's behavior, namely, his desire to maintain his well-known openness, even in the face of the horrifying facts of a dirty war. The Kremlin managed to stay abreast of the press in the exposure of the latest monstrous war crime, perpetrated by one of the most senior officers in the Russian army on the night of March 27 in Chechnya. Tank regiment commander Colonel Budanov raped and then strangled an 18-year-old Chechen girl. Society was informed of this in a television report where General Kvashnin, head of the General Staff, personally reportd on the matter to Putin. If this is an indication of the new government's attempts at a "clean game," the Kremlin will have to be consistent and proceed to confess to other crimes committed by the Russian army against the peaceful inhabitants of Chechnya. But this risks an uprising within the military. There is one more aspect of the character of the new government in the Kremlin. That is its foreign policy. According to what head of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Igor Ivanov has said lately, that policy will be consistent, predictable and pragmatically attentive to mutual benefit. The final attribute is especially characteristic.
Unofficial sources have revealed that Russian diplomats abroad have already been instructed to prepare for a new undertaking--focusing their emphasis on protecting Russia's economic interests. Sources in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs say that contact between the president of Russia and other world leaders will no longer "be conducted in saunas and hunting lodges," as they were under Yeltsin, nor will they be characterized by an abundance of alcohol. Rather, they will take place in "theaters and palaces," as was recently witnessed in St. Petersburg, when British prime minister Tony Blair came for the premiere of an opera by Sergei Prokofiev at the Mariinsky Theater and Putin came from Moscow to join him. The Kremlin is hinting that it is with London that Moscow will etablish the most intimate relations in respect to Putin's attitude toward Western leaders. The three-way union with Paris and Bonn that appeared under Yeltsin thus becomes a thing of the past. The Chinese and Indian orientation of Russia's Asian policy is also coming to the fore. That is the continuation of the tendency to establish a "multipolar" world to counterbalance the "unipolar" world that Moscow claims the United States is trying to build "under itself." Russian-American relations will develop a clear style only after the presidential elections in the United States in November.
Hard times await many Commonwealth of Independent States leaders under Putin. They are accustomed to settling their problems with Moscow in informal meetings with Boris Yeltsin with "a little vodka." Putin, however, has no ties with CIS leaders from the Politburo of the Central Committee of the communist party, nor the obligations that come with such ties. The problem of CIS debts to Russia (which are estimated at between $7 and 10 billion, mainly for oil and gas supplies) will be settled with harshness. Putin has already demonstrated this style of relations in his months as prime minister. Moscow will also step up its protection of Russian-speakers living in those countries. Many observers are now talking in full seriousness of a Putin epoch in Russia lasting 8 to 16 years. Two factors will make that possible: the new president's good health and the inevitable lengthening of the term of the presidency sometime in the future. Changing the constitution is already customary here--it was changed under Yeltsin, why not under Putin too?
"On March 25, 2000, the Lukashenko regime challengd the entire civilized world and belied illusions of the possibility of a 'dialog' with the regime or democratic elections under the regime"--joint statement by the Belarussian People's Front (BPF) Renaissance Movement and the BPF Party. Minsky city officials denied permission for a procession from Yakub Kolas Square to Bangalore Square, site of the meeting that they did sanction. On the morning of March 25, Yakub Kolas Square was, in effect, under occupation by law enforcement agencies, which assiduously did not allow a single person to enter the square or use the public transportation stops located on the square. The subway was in operation, but access to it was limited. People standing on the square in front of the Philharmonic, which abuts Yakub Kolas Square, were looked upon as potential participants in an unsanctioned action, as they were informed by police loudspeakers, and many people were taken into custody without visible cause. By rough estimate, a total of 500 people were detained, either "rightly" or "wrongly." Exact figures were unavailable at the time this material was prepared. For the first time since 1997, when the beating of journalists led to wide repercussions, belonging to the media did not guarantee safe conduct from police custody.
On the contrary, journalists were among the first to be taken in. Almost all Belarussian and foreign journalists at the action were seized and taken to a warehouse on the grounds of an Internal Forces division on Mayakovsky Street. All told, about 30 journalists were detained and not released until both the unsanctioned and sanctioned parts of Freedom Day were over. Film crews from the Russian television stations ORT and RTR were especially aggrieved, as equipment belonging to them was intentionally damaged. Intervention by the Russian embassy was required to settle that incident. The embassy refused to comment on the occurrence. Russian news services, referring to the Kremlin press service, reported that acting Russian president Vladimir Putin intervened personally to free the journalists. There are even accounts of his telephone conversation with Belarussian head of state Alexander Lukashenko, who was in the United Arab Emirates on an official visit. According to official information, "the two leaders' conversation concerned the economic and socio-political situation in both Belarus and Russia." It is curious to note that Russian media opposed to Putin and the press service of the president of the Republic of Belarus simultaneously emphasized that the freeing of the journalists was completely unrelated to the telephone conversation.
The Belarussian Association of Journalists siad in a statement that "once again Belarussian have grossly violated the constitutional right of citizens to recieve full, reliable and timely information on the activities of state organs and on the political life of the country and broken the law 'On Print and Other Mass Media.'" The Association "expresses strong protest against the open and cynical reprisals against journalists fulfilling their professional duties" and demanded that authorities "take immediate measures to investigate this disturbing incident and bring the guilty parties to justice." On March 27, several journalists and others were subjected to legal proceedings at police stations on charges of violating laws on meetings and street processions. At the time of the preparation of this material, the results of those preceedings were not known. On March 25, Christopher Panico, a counselor from the Consultative-Oberservation Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and Marjusz Kaminiski, a deputy in the Polish Seima, were detained for several hours, in violation of their diplomatic immunity. As with the journalists, law enforcement agents held the foreign observers captive knowingly, since both the foreign citizens immediately explained their status and presented identification. At about 1:00, the opposition tried to hold demonstrations on Surganov and Bogdanovich Streets, but these were repulsed by the police. However, in spite of hindrances by the authorities, the meeting permitted on Bangalore Square drew, by various estimates, between 5000 and 10,000 people. Opposition leaders appearing there (Vyacheslav Sivchik, Vintsuk Vyachorka, Nikolai Statkevich, Pavel Znavets, Alexander Dobrovolsky, Pavel Severintsev) characterized the authorities' painful reaction to the Freedom Day celebration as the agony of the Lukashenko regime. The daughter of missing former minister of the interior Yury Zakharenko called for a stop to repression and a representative of the Polish parliament expressed soldarity with the participants in the meeting. According to the Belarussian Helsinki Committee, Freedom Day actions took place in other Belarussian cities. In Soligorsk, 50-60 people took part in an action in Miner Stadium on the edge of the city. No excesses were reported in preliminary accounts. In Bobruisk, about 300 people assembled on the central square of the city to congratulate each other on the holiday and hand out human rights literature. No meeting was held. When those assembled on the square began to disperse, unknown persons in civilian clothes stepped forward to detain about 20 people. In Baranovichi, about 200 people took part in a meeting. A member of the city executive council was present. The meeting proceeded peacefully, although one person carrying the red-white-and-red flag was detained afterward. In Grodno, participants in a meeting met on the central square of the city. When they began their procession along a pedestrian walkway to the meeting site, they were stopped by local police and police special forces, who, claiming that they were not permitted to march past the city council, directed them to Koshevy Street, which has heavy traffic. Around 3000 people took part in the meeting. No one was detained, although BPF activist Sergei Malchik was issued a summons to appear in court on Wednesday. The Vyasna Human Rights Center and the Conservative Christian Party of the BPF (led by Zenon Poznyak) picketed near the regional public library in Vitebsk (three people detained by the police) and held a procession with an icon of the Virgin Mary (five detained). In a press release issued on March 25 by the Belarussian Helsinki Committee, the behavior of law enforcement agencies under the pressure of the opposition demonstration was compared with the "cleansing" being conducted in Chechnya.
The leadership of the human rights organization innumerated violations of citizens' constitutional rights and demanded that the Minsk City Executive Council and corresponding Ministry of the Interior structures "conduct official investigations without delay, punish those responsible and apologize to the citizens of the country and the foreign guests in the capital." The behavior of law enforcement organs in Minsk on March 25 merits further consideration. The means used to respond to the demonstration clearly exceeded unavoidable measures and bear attributes of exhibitionism and intimidation. It would be hard to find any other explanation for the postioning of armored vehicles in "dangerous" places, practically the full mobilization of the military forces of the Ministry of the Interior--from students in the ministry's academy to the "Eagles" special forces--in full gear, including gas masks and metal-encased rubber clubs, or the use of police dogs, sometimes unmuzzled Rotweilers, to patrol Frantisek Skorina Avenue. Twice illegal attempts were made to seize the offices of the BPF's Renaissance Movement and the BPF Party (led by Vintsuk Vyachorka). The deliberate detention of journalists and foreign observers adds a further nuance to those actions, since it is sure to provoke criticism from the world community.
The goal of those actions is difficult to fathom, but Vladimir Putin's good name was obviously not kept under consideration. There is talk in police circles of the impending dismissal of Minister of the Interior Yury Sivakov. But blame for the events of March 25 clearly cannot rest on him alone, even though the head of state was out of the capital at that moment. Alexander Lukashenko usually leaves Minsk when large-scale actions take place, but it is unimaginable that the "forces" are left to operate on their own and without instructions. One possibility is that law enforcement agencies were ordered to make a show of the force and severity of the ruling regime before the beginning, at Lukashenko's initiative, of a "dialog of the socio-political forces of the Republic of Belarus," on March 29. On March 27, Dmitry Parton, press secretary to the minister of the interior, told journalists that an official investigation had been launched into the activities of law enforcement agencies the previous Saturday. He also returned illegally seized video material.
On April 9, 2000, in Georgia a presidential election is due. Seven candidates are running for president of Georgia out of which odds, undoubtedly, are in favor of the incumbent president, Eduard Shevardnadze. It came as a surprise to everyone that the main alliance in opposition, informally known as the "Batumi Coalition", nominated two candidates - Aslan Abashidze, Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Ajara, and Jumber Patiashvili, a member of the political council of the said coalition. Among the other four candidates, whose chances are less than little, there is a scandalously famous lawyer, and a prisoner who although recently was pardoned by President Shevardnadze, was never released from the prison by Aslan Abashidze. The two others are the little known representatives of less known political organizations. At the start, the Batumi Coalition was threatening with boycotting on elections, which boycott should have been understood as the boycott on the part of the whole region, as its authoritarian ruler, Abashidze controls almost 100 per cent of all votes of the Ajarian electorate (who make up about 10% of all voters of Georgia). Given that the runaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are not about to take part in elections and that the idea of boycott was advocated by over 20 minor parties united in a Coordinating Center, established for this particular purpose, the legitimacy of a president elect under such circumstances could become a seriously questionable issue.
Afterwards, however, the Batumi Coalition nominated two candidates instead
of one, making everybody to guess what's going on and which candidate is
going to withdraw from the election for the benefit of the other. The most
of observers have inclined to a belief that ultimately nobody else but
the Ajarian leader will withdraw from the presidential race. Such a belief
is underpinned by the fact that not only does Aslan Abashidze insist on
the marking of voters the day of election, but also keeps being surprisingly
inactive as the campaign is drawing to the end. The issue of marking (putting
paint marks on the hands of voters which could not be effaced for 24 hours)
became another apple of discord between the parliamentary majority represented
by the presidential party - the Union of Citizens, and the Batumi Coalition.
According to President Shevardnadze, for example, the marking would insult
the voters. In the opinion of the chairman of the Central Electoral Committee,
however, there could be found many alternative mechanisms of protection
against probable falsifications, which mechanisms could be more acceptable.
In fact, by saying this the chairman recognized that the problem of falsifications
have actually existed. Nugzar Ivanidze, the director of Fair Elections,
an NGO that is a watchdog of elections, believes that the marking of voters
is an efficient remedy for falsifications. Such a practice has been maintained
in many countries of the world and in the very process of marking there
is nothing that could insult the voters, says Mr. Ivanidze. According to
him, because there was no marking during the past parliamentary elections,
a so-called electoral merry-go-round was observed at many places which
means that there were many who had voted several times at different polling
The representatives of the National Democratic Alliance, another group of parties in opposition, consider that it would be easier to endure paint on the hand during 24 hours than to tolerate bad government during four more years. As to themselves, they are going to cross out all candidates in the ballot paper. Whatever the case maybe, there are still two main competitors for presidency (as was the case at the time of previous presidential election in 1995) - Eduard Shevardnadze and Jumber Patiashvili - both of whom used to be the leaders of the Communist Party of Georgia. All politicians of new, non-Communist generation, having assumed that it's too unrealistic to beat Shevardnadze on his court under his own rules of game, refrained from running for presidency for now. Indeed, the experience of the parliamentary elections of the 31st of October, when all governmental structures from local authorities to police had unselfishly, harmoniously and fancifully worked to ensure victory of the ruling party, did not leave any room for optimism. The very date of election brings about somewhat delicate associations.
On April 9, 1989, at dawn, the Soviet troops, by using heavy armored equipment and poisonous gas, took a violent attack on the peaceful manifestation in the downtown Tbilisi, causing 19 casualties. At that time Patiashvili was the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Georgian Communist Party, while Shevardnadze was the member of Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Eleven years later, on the threshold of presidential election, both of them, together with their respective electoral committees, are trying to figure out who is to blame for what happened. Shevardnadze, who controls the major administrative and propagandistic tools in the country, is in a better position. The work of the National TV brings about the associations of celebrations devoted to the centenary of Lenin's birth, when as underground jokers had joked, even a plugged-in iron could sing the praises of the chief's genius. Almost all members of the Government, instead of dealing with a multitude of problems, are involved in Shevardnadze's campaign. Parliament ceased its sessions and the speaker, together with his associates, travels around the country to agitate for Shevardnadze's benefit. The "parade of presidents" reached the peak: the heads of states of Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Armenia, as well as the German chancellor, having purposefully associated their visits with the upcoming election, by all means tried to demonstrate their support for Shevardnadze. If course, solidarity of close and distant neighbors and the promising Caspian and Central Asian oil projects is a good business, but the social and economic realities in Georgia are too intolerable to enable Shevardnadze to give the voters anything but abstract promises. Ridiculously low salaries and pensions have been in arrears for many months, while government's actual fiscal revenues, which in comparison with the last year have gone down, for the first three months of this year made up just 75% of the projected budget; territorial problems related to Abkhazia and South Ossetia are still at deadlock; electricity cuts are overwhelming and even residents in the capital city can enjoy electricity just for 6-7 hours a day. What is flourishing, in the meantime, is corruption, smuggling, drug traffic...
Under such circumstances, it would be very difficult even to Shevardnadze
to win a credit of at least 50% of voters (exactly this much is necessary
to win election in the very first round), especially in the absence of
a somewhat serious contest. It is for this reason that the appearing of
Patiashvili, with respect to whom no prudent man can have any hope, who
can, however, give hopes to anybody who fiercely dislikes Shevardnadze,
gives an obvious advantage to this latter. Some voters may become motivated
to go to polling stations on the 9th of April for the only purpose - to
vote for the bad not to let things go worse. It's not clear, however, what
can be worse than this?
On 8th of April, local elections for county parliaments are to held
in both entities in Bosnia and Hercegovina. 2,9 million voters will chose
candidates from more than 70 parties. Such a great number of political
parties is not unusual for Balkans countries, since period of multiparty
democracy has been lasting for less than ten years, which is obviously
not long enough for the popular interest to be articulated in two or three
These will be the fourth post-war elections in Bosnia. The reason for such frequent election process is the need of international community, which also controls elections via OSCE mission, to render impossible long rule of one party or political option during this politically unstable times in Bosnia and Hercegovina. However, success has been only partial. From the viewpoint of the ruling parties, there have been no changes in Federation B-H. On all elections the winners have been Moslem Party of democratic action (SDA) and Croatian democratic union (HDZ). Both parties also won the elections in 1990. On the other hand, there have been change of government in the Serb Republic and rule of Serbian democratic party, headed by Radovan Karadzic, has been ended. Moderate option, supported by international community, has come to power. Although the new ruling party has been clinging onto hard nationalistic concept which discourages return of refugees from other ethnic groups to the Serb Republic, international factors are satisfied with them , since now there is at least Serbian government which is ready to negotiate with the West, but also with the representatives of other Bosnian entity. That and strong help of international community has made possible for Bosnia and Hercegovina to start at least partly functioning as a normal state.
International community openly supports opposition in Federation B-H and government in the Serb Republic. Many times, international representatives have openly expressed their support to Socialdemocratic party of Bosnia and Hercegovina, which they hold the only one being capable of implementing changes in the country. On the other hand, SDA and especially HDZ have been called retrograde and nationalistic forces. This situation is even more extreme in the Serb Republic. The government led by prime minister Milorad Dodik has the unreserved support of the whole western community, while the hard nationalist opposition parties have been labelled as extreme or "those who mustn't come to power", as head of UN mission in B-H Jacque Klein said. OSCE has even prohibited Serb radical party (SRS) from participating in elections because it had refused to respect OSCE's decision of removing three candidates from the election lists, but also because of disrespecting principles of the Dayton Accord, which was the reason behind demands to remove the three candidates.
Much noise was also caused by official OSCE logo for these elections. Its motto is "Let's vote for change!" SDA, but also many citizens, feel this is in fact appeal to voters to change the present government, which demonstrates open bias of the international community. Also, election TV clips mention corruption, tardiness in pension payments, inefficiency of state institutions and other negative sides of present society, which openly points out that voters should change something. Ruling F3ederation parties are therefore protesting and asking for showing also positive achievements, because they feel that by stressing only negatives international community behaves like an opposition. However, OSCE rejected such claims several times, saying that the motto "Let's vote for changes" exists in many world countries and denotes constant tendency for better, nevermind the political forces that are behind the changes.
Still, it is difficult to say whether they will be significant changes at these elections. Just after elections in Croatia and victory of Croatian opposition, it seemed that wave of change would certainly engulf also Bosnia and Hercegovina. However, now, at the eve of local elections, it seems as if the enthusiasm for change has quieted down. The reason for it lies in the fact that nationalist tensions are still strong in B-H. Nationalistic parties get voters on the basis spreading fear of "the other". That was not the case in Croatia, since HDZ lost possibility of homogenising voters against hegemonystic tendencies from Serbia, which has lost all territorial aspirations due to economical, political and even military problems. It is the contrary in Bosnia where three equal nations are living together. For example, HDZ is basing its election campaign on fighting Bosniak domination in Bosnia and Hercegovina, most Serbian parties behave in a similar way, while SDA stresses that it is the only party which can counter still active Serbian and Croatian nationalism. Although such an election bait now has less supporters than just after the war, it still has effect on many B-H citizens.
Not one organisation made a serious poll about current attitude of the voters. Only newspapers "Slobodna Bosna" from Sarajevo made a poll on several hundred interviewees which showed that Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose president is vice-prime minister Haris Silajdzic, may expect better results. This party made a coalition with the ruling SDA at last elections, but will now have its own candidates in some counties. Haris Silajdzic is a harsh critic of Dayton Accord, but it obviously has influence among the voters, since many Bosniaks feel that the Accord is unjust, non-functional and unfavourable for Bosniak national interests of more centralised state. Such idea is furthered by Bosniak parties. According to this poll, Party for B-H would rank same as SDA. Immediately below them is SDP, which has a third in counties with Bosniak majority, which is somewhat better than at the last elections. Still, the poll showed that votes would be distributed among sister parties SDA and Party for B-H, and not SDP, which makes one to conclude that there are no significant changes in the voters' attitude. The basic political difference between the two parties and SDP lies in the fact that SDP represents political left. SDP is a legal successor of the communist party and retains some of the achievements of the Yugoslav communism like antifascism and economical revival of the country during 50s and 60s. Also, SDP is in favour of complete secularisation of the state. SDA, which is supported by many Moslem priests, has no intention to explicitly do it. SDP is also multinational party, although that is primarily reflected in its leadership and not its supporters. However, the very openness of the party and support for western democratic values is the characteristic which is supported by the international community and also some free thinkers in Federation B-H. Although the party runs for office also in the Serb republic, no special success is expected there.
The ruling party of Bosnian Croats HDZ has, it seems, certain victory in most counties where Croats form a majority. The party efficiently recovered from defeat of the sister HDZ in Croatia and entered election campaign rather homogeneous. Its job is further made easier by the fact that there are no serious Croatian opposition parties. New Croatian initiative and Croatian Peasant's party, which support strengthening of Bosnian state, didn't manage to organise serious election campaign; Croatian Party of Rights is active only in Herzegovina and has many attitudes similar to HDZ.
In the Serb Republic at the elections there will be no Serb radical party, which formed a coalition with SDS at the last elections. Radicals have recently called their supporters to boycott the elections. Such move came as a surprise to SDS because the first idea was to prevent abstinence of Serbian voters in order to prevent refugee Bosniaks to get the upper hand in some Serbian counties. If, during the days before elections, two parties reach an agreement so that supporters of radicals turn over their votes to SDS, that will influence the results in eastern parts of the the Serb Republic, traditionally supporting hard nationalistic parties. Practically, SDS could become absolute, but formal, ruler in that part of the country, with radicals participating from the shadows. Victory of moderate option is expected in western parts. However, since Unity Coalition broke apart, it is not certain how will the government be divided among Socialist party and other two coalition parties: Dodik's Independent socialdemocrats and Serb national alliance headed by former RS president Biljana Plavsic. New Party of democratic progress led by very capable pre-war politician Mladen Ivanic can also hope for participation. This new party which gathers many intellectuals is politically positioned between SDS and Unity parties.
Upcoming local elections are very important in creation of multi-ethnic milieu in Bosnia and Hercegovina. The experience showed that counties are a core of functioning of the state, since whatever decision central government makes about democratisation or refugee return, they become stalled on the local level. Local government decides if and when somebody will retake its apartment, will he/she find a job and will he, eventually, be able to enjoy his elementary human rights. SDP coming to power in Federation counties would start an important democratisation process, since the present local government proved to be an obstacle to implementation of the Dayton Accord. It is also significant that the local government is taken by moderates in the Serb Republic. Together with pressures from international community, that would restart the process of refugee return. The return of national and party variety would be more important than efficient solving of infrastructure problems, upon which many are building their election campaign.