A congress of the Party of Democratic Action, SDA, on Tuesday elected a new leadership for the new four years, electing Bakir Izetbegovic as president while choosing a deputy president, eight vice-presidents and a new main board.
“I am honoured by these results,” Izetbegovic told the congress after his overwhelming victory. He stressed the importance of reconciliation across Balkan countries, but also among different Bosniak factions within the SDA itself.
“Reconciliation is difficult and painstaking but is still the most important process in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the rest of the Balkans,” Izetbegovic told the congress, which was held on the 25th anniversary of the formation of the party.
Izetbegovic’s victory was expected, as he has effectively run the party for almost two years and has used that time to strengthen his control over the party established by his father.
The SDA was established by the Muslim activist, lawyer and politician Alija Izetbegovic on May 26, 1990. It was set up to represent the national interests of Bosniaks in as volatile period as the former Yugoslavia began to break up.
Alija Izetbegovic, who also became independent Bosnia’s first president, ran the country and his party until 2001 when he withdrew from political life due to his age and poor health.
Surprisingly, he entrusted the SDA leadership to the little-known Sulejman Tihic, rather than to his own son, Bakir, a decision he never fully explained before dying in 2003.
Tihic was re-elected leader of the SDA three times, while Bakir Izetbegovic held a number of top positions, including being a member of the party presidency and main board and the party’s vice-president. He never managed to defeat Tihic in inter-party elections.
As Tihic’s health gradually deteriorated, by 2013 he and Izetbegovic had agreed to share party leadership functions and postpone party elections until after the 2014 general elections.
Izetbegovic officially became deputy president but effectively took over the leadership as Tihic struggled with cancer, dying in September 2014.
Izetbegovic also used his reinforced position in the SDA during the October 2014 elections to overwhelmingly win re-election for a second term as the Bosniak member of Bosnia’s three-member presidency.
As the acting SDA leader and Bosniak member of the presidency, Izetbegovic appeared stronger then ever, and Tuesday’s party congress was expected to confirm that.
During the preparation of the congress, at the last moment, the SDA main board identified two other candidates, but Izetbegovic easily defeated them, winning more than three times the number of votes than other two candidates combined.
However, senior SDA officials, as well as local experts and diplomats have expressed concerns about the future direction of the SDA under Izetbegovic.
One concern is the way that Izetbegovic has almost monopolized the party and silenced most of his internal critics, while drawing power into his own hands and those of a few close allies.
“The SDA is being run by a small group of people who are focused on protection of their own personal interests,” Semsudin Mehmedovic, one of Izetbegovic’s two rivals, said in his speech before the vote on Tuesday.
Tensions were visible at the congress on Tuesday and Wednesday, especially during the election for the posts of vice president and the members of the main board. On several occasions, SDA officials complained of irregularities in the counting process.
Western diplomats are meanwhile concerned by Izetbegovic’s close links to Turkey's authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and to certain Saudi businessmen.
Several diplomats told Balkan Insight that they feared the Bosniak political leadership may be shifting its focus away from the EU and the US towards Turkey and even Saudi Arabia.
"Izetbegovic at crossroads: to take Bosniaks to EU or towards East through Turkey," an article published in Croatian daily Vecernji List on Tuesday said, reflecting those concerns.