Skip to main content


EACEA National Policies Platform
Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina

5. Participation

5.1 General context

Last update: 28 November 2022

Main concepts

BiH is a state that consists of two entities: Republika Srpska (RS) and Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH). There is also the self-governing District of Brcko of BiH (BD).

National youth policy does not exist in BiH yet due to its constitutional structure and because certain jurisdictions (like youth) are tied by the Constitution to a certain level of government.

The youth issues at national level are in jurisdiction of the Commission for Coordination of Youth Issues in BiH and newly established Mobility and Youth Unit at the BiH Ministry of Civil Affairs.

Most of the constitutional competencies regarding youth issues are at the entities’ government level: RS, and FBiH. A government representative from each entity is the member of the Commission for Coordination of Youth Issues in BiH at the national level.

The competencies at the entity level in the field of youth are within the following ministries:

RS Ministry of Family, Youth and Sports  and FBiH Ministry of Culture and Sports.

The RS Law on Youth Organization and the FBiH Youth Law and Brcko District Youth Law define the age limits for the youth as a target group between the age of 15 and 30.

Institutions of representative democracy

  • The country's constitutional structure (e.g. if it is a centralised or a federal system; if it is a presidential democracy, a parliamentary democracy, constitutional monarchy etc.)

BiH is a presidential style parliamentary republic that is governed by a collegial Presidency consisting of one Croat, one Bosniac, and one Serb. It has a bicameral legislature consisting of the House of the Peoples and the House of Representatives. Together, these chambers form the Parliamentary Assembly. The Constitutional Court is the country’s highest judicial body.

  • Its main representative institutions at the national/federal (e.g. parliament, parliamentary assembly, house of representatives), regional (e.g. regional assembly) and local level (e.g. mayoral office, municipal council, local council, etc.).

The Executive

The Constitution includes a collegial three-person Presidency, consisting of one Bosniak, one Croat and one Serb, each of them serving for four years. The Bosniak and Croat members are directly elected from the territory of FBiH whilst the Serb member is elected from the territory of RS. Members of the Presidency may be re-elected once and are then ineligible for four years. A Chair, who is selected by rotation or determined by the Parliamentary Assembly in case of no consensus, heads the Presidency. However, decisions in the Presidency are adopted by consensus, otherwise by a majority vote of the members. If the decision is seen to be “destructive of a vital interest” the dissenting member may appeal it within three days. A two-thirds majority of the legislature from the dissenting member’s respective territory is then allowed to nullify the decision. According to paragraph 3 of Article V, the Presidency is competent to conduct foreign policy; appoint ambassadors; negotiate, denounce and ratify treaties; execute parliamentary decisions, as well as propose an annual budget. In addition, the members of the Presidency are given “civilian command authority over armed forces”. However, neither of the entities is allowed to use force against another entity without the consent of the government of the latter and of the Presidency.

The Chair of the Council of Ministers, nominated by the Presidency, selects the other members of the Council with the approval of the House of Representatives. Not more than two-thirds of the members shall be appointed from the territory of the FBiH. The Council’s task is to carry out “the policies and decisions of Bosnia and Herzegovina”. If a vote of no-confidence is passed by the Parliamentary Assembly, the Council of Ministers is required to resign.

The Legislature

The Constitution provides for a bicameral parliament, comprising a lower chamber, the House of Representatives, and an upper chamber, the House of Peoples. It enjoys institutional autonomy and has a moderate amount of power over the executive. The legislature enacts legislation to implement decisions of the Presidency or to carry out its own duties under the Constitution. Its competencies include the power to amend the Constitution, approve international treaties and the annual budget, appoint members of the judiciary, grant amnesties, pardons and approve presidential declarations of war. Moreover, it is allowed to issue a vote of no-confidence against the Council of Ministers. The approval of both chambers is needed for all legislation. Like the decisions of the Presidency, an act can be annulled if a majority of the respective members of parliament declares it to be “destructive of a vital interest” of the people. A joint commission, or under specific circumstances the Constitutional Court, must resolve the dispute in case a majority of the members of parliament of another entity objects to the declaration.

The Judiciary

The Constitutional Court, a body of nine members, has original and final jurisdiction over all matters relating to the interpretation of the Constitution. Four members are elected by the House of Representatives of FBiH, two members by the Assembly of RS, and three members are designated by the President of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) after consultation with the Presidency. The ECHR may not select judges who are citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina or of any neighbouring country. The first judges of the court were appointed for five years. Judges appointed thereafter, however, stay in office until the age of 70. The Court is competent to hear appeals over issues under the Constitution arising out of judgments of any other court. In addition, any court in BiH may ask the court to review the constitutionality of laws, on whose validity its decision depends, with the Constitution, with the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and its Protocols, or with the laws of BiH. The Court is granted exclusive jurisdiction on disputes between entities or between the country and entities as well as on disputes between state’s institutions. The latter disputes may only be referred to the Court by certain officials or bodies.

Constitutional development

The BiH Constitution is part of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Annex 4 of the Agreement) signed by the Republic of Croatia, the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in Paris on the 14th December 1995. It is also known as the Paris Agreement or the Dayton Agreement, named after the cities where it was signed. The Dayton Peace Agreement is a de facto series of agreements consisting of one framework agreement and twelve special agreements referred to as Annexes to the General Framework Peace Agreement for Bosnia and Herzegovina. The special agreements, which were signed by different parties, relate to civilian (Annexes 2 through 11) and military components (Annexes 1-A and 1-B). Annex 4 contains the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which, unlike other annexes, was not made in the form of an agreement. The Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, FBiH and RS all approved the BiH Constitution. Although the last sentence of Article XI states that the Agreement shall be signed in the three official languages of Bosnia and Herzegovina (i.e. Bosnian, Serbian, and Croatian) and English language, the BiH Constitutional Charter was officially signed only in English. There are no official versions made in the official languages of Bosnia and Herzegovina, nor have the relevant authorities translated this document, including the BiH Constitution, only un-official translations have been used. The Dayton Peace Agreement, including the Constitution, has never been published in the Official Gazettes of the State and/or entities.

The RS Constitution  was adopted on 28 February 1992 and published in the RS Official Gazette. Since 1992, there have been more than 120 amendments to the Constitution. Article 1 of the Constitution states that RS is territorially unified, indivisible, and an inalienable constitutional and legal entity that shall independently perform its constitutional, legislative, executive, and judicial functions. The Constitution created a centralized federal unit within the asymmetrical federal system in BiH.

The Washington Agreement created FBiH in March 1994. On 30 March 1994, the Constitutional Assembly of FBiH adopted its Constitution, establishing the second of the two entities in BiH. Unlike RS, FBiH is extremely decentralized, made up of ten cantons with broad constitutional powers and discrepancies in the areas of education, culture, health care, etc. The cantonal system was selected to prevent dominance by one ethnic group over the other. Since 1994, this Constitution has been amended at least one hundred times.

The BD BiH was established in 2000 after an arbitration process undertaken by the High Representative, and is a neutral, self-governing administrative unit under the sovereignty of BiH. The BiH Constitution, as well as all relevant decisions and laws regarding the BiH institutions, are directly applicable throughout the territory of BD. BD also has its own Statute regulating the functions and powers of BD, its cooperation with the entities, human rights and freedoms, organization of BD, and division of powers, competencies and institutions, etc. The status of the district was secured with the adoption of the first Amendment to the BiH Constitution in 2009.

  • The main legal principles concerning elections, such as whether voting is compulsory and how the vote is cast (by ballot, by post, by proxy etc.).

Legal framework and electoral system

The elections are primarily regulated by the BiH Election Law adopted in 2001. Amendments to the Law were adopted in April 2016, only six months prior to the elections, thus challenging the Central Election Commission about the implementation of the Law. The most important amendments adopted in 2016 included a gender quota of at least 40% of candidates from the underrepresented gender on candidates’ lists.

Regarding the electoral system, mayors are directly elected by a simple majority first-past-the-post system (plurality system). However, in BD, East Sarajevo and the City of Sarajevo, mayors are indirectly elected by the respective BD Assembly and city councils.

For municipal councils in all entities, the electoral system in use is the proportional representation in multi-member constituencies. There is a 3% threshold to participate in the process of allocation of seats. Mandates in municipal councils are then allocated to the candidates’ lists according to the Saint-Laguë method, which is a highest quotient method using successive quotients for each list. Mandates won by a list are then distributed among candidates on the list. Mandates should be first distributed among candidates who individually received at least 10% of the votes, from the candidate who received the highest number of votes to the candidates who received the lowest number. If some mandates are still to be allocated to the same list, they are distributed among candidates who received less than 10% of the votes, according to their rank order on the list. All municipal councils that form a city elect a city council through a proportional representation system.

Election administration bodies

The election administration is a three-level structure headed by the Central Electoral Commission (CEC). The election administration also includes Municipal Election Commissions (MECs) and Polling Station Commissions (PSCs). The CEC is composed of seven members appointed for a seven-year term, including two Croats, two Bosniaks, two Serbs and one representative of the “Others”.

Voter registration and voters’ lists

A total of 3,263,906 voters were registered in the Central Voters’ Register, including 65,111 voters by mail for 2016 local elections. All BiH citizens registered in the Central Voters’ Register had the right to vote in person in the municipality of their permanent residence. Voters residing abroad were allowed to cast their ballot out of the country upon registration with the Central Election Commission but were also entitled to vote if in the country on election day. Polling stations were organized in the BiH diplomatic representations abroad for about 25 000 voters.