History of Parliamentarism in BiH

The period of Ottoman rule

During the period of Ottoman rule, Bosnia and Herzegovina had a specific type of collective national authority which lacked a legislative or, in fact, any other prerogative of a modern assembly. However, it did have its place in the hierarchy of authority at that time.

(Monographs of the "Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the 2010 edition.)

The period of Ottoman rule

While the country was ruled by the Ottoman Empire, Bosnian and other governors had their divans, which were intended as a sort of a counselling body. The divan of a Bosnian valija (governor of a province) was named the Bosnian divan, after the name of the province. It included the senior officers of the administrative, judicial and financial authorities and, in time, other dignitaries and senior military officers as well.

When the country faced special circumstances or decisions had to be made on very important matters, apart from its standing members, the Bosnian valija would also convene respected and influential persons from the entire ejalet at the council session. These respected persons, who were named ajani, discussed the issues at hand with the divan members.

These meetings were called the Council of Ajani in Bosnia, and were so supported and respected throughout the ejalet that the Bosnian valija had to accept their decisions. The best known Council of Ajani was held in 1737, when the council forced the representatives of Ottoman authorities in Bosnia to alarm the country to the approaching Austrian army and offer resistance. This resulted in the defeat of the Austrians at the battle of Banja Luka.

Also, distinguished local figures would sometimes decide to take the fate of the country into their own hands even without the permission or knowledge of Ottoman authorities, and at the councils made fateful decisions. For instance, unsatisfied with the sultan’s decisions regarding Bosnia in early 1831, the Bosnian notables held a council session in Tuzla and decided to take a joint action and fight for the right to participate in making decisions on Bosnia, and elected Husein Gradaščević, the most respected Bosnian Captain, to lead their movement.

After the Bosniaks defeated the emperor’s army in Kosovo the same year, a council was convened in Sarajevo and respected figures, ulema, officers and village leaders from all parts of Bosnia unanimously elected Husein, the Captain, to become valija of Bosnia with the rank of vizier. By this act, the autonomy of Bosnia was officially proclaimed - yet not for long, as the central Ottoman authorities managed relatively quickly to defeat the Bosnian army and restore their authority.

In accord with the reorganization of the Bosnian ejalet and its transformation into a vilajet (province) in 1865, as well as the Decree on the organization of vilajet administration, the Bosnian vilajet was to establish the General Vilajet Council (Medžlisi umumii vilájet) or the Vilajet Assembly. Pursuant to the above Decree, every sandžak delegated four representatives each, two Muslims and two non-Muslims. The assembly was to be held once a year and to last no more than 40 days. The representatives held a one-year mandate and could be elected repeatedly.

The Vilajet Assembly discussed either the issues delegated by the elected representatives, provided that the valija (province governor) believed that the Assembly should discuss these issues, or the issues the valija himself submitted for consideration. The Assembly discussed public works, building and maintenance of communications, public and military facilities, public order and traffic, promotion of the economy, health care, education and culture, tax liabilities, tax assessment and collection, in addition to issues concerning landed property.

The decisions and inferences rendered by the Assembly would only become effective upon confirmation by the Porta. In terms of reform, although the established Vilajet Assembly was considerably restricted with regard to the manner in which representatives were elected, the religious composition of the Assembly (which favored Muslims), the selection of issues to be discussed, the dependence of the province on executive authorities, and the imperative that the central government confirm its conclusions, the Assembly still constituted considerable progress in the participation of locals, and non-Muslims in particular, in reaching decisions on the important issues facing Bosnia and Herzegovina, and prefigured the establishment of the more mature, competent and empowered national and political representative body that would be set up during the period of Austro-Hungarian rule.