Bosnian lawmakers approve new government after 14-month deadlock

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bosnian lawmakers approved a new central government on Monday after a 14-month deadlock, opening the way for a resumption of reforms needed to become a candidate for EU membership and for talks on a new deal with the International Monetary Fund.

Disagreement among the Bosnian presidency’s Serb, Croat and Bosniak members on how to proceed toward NATO integration had blocked the formation of a new government since a national election in the ethnically divided Balkan nation last year.

But after a compromise between the ethnic groups last month, parliament approved Bosnian Serb economist Zoran Tegeltija as prime minister on Dec. 5. Tegeltija had previously served as finance minister in Bosnia’s autonomous Serb Republic

On Monday parliament approved Tegeltija’s proposed new cabinet team by 29 votes in the 42-seat parliament. The prime minister made no statement after the vote.

Tegeltija, from the Bosnian Serb ruling SNSD party, was nominated by SNSD chief Milorad Dodik, who also serves as a Serb member on Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, in exchange for a reform program demanded by NATO, previously blocked by the Serbs who oppose closer ties with the alliance.

His cabinet will include nine ministers from the three biggest ethnic parties - the SNSD, the Croats’ HDZ and the Bosniaks’ SDA - and two ministers from the SDA’s junior partners, the SBB and the DF.

A minister for human rights and refugees has yet to be approved because of procedural delays, Tegeltija said.

After the 1992-95 war that destroyed the old Yugoslavia, Bosnia was split into two autonomous regions linked by a weak central government: the Serb Republic and the Federation, dominated by Bosniak Muslims and Croats. The latter has yet to form a new government.

Tegeltija has said his key priority will be to unblock reforms needed for Bosnia to secure the status of a candidate for eventual European Union membership, and also to release frozen investments to spur much-needed economic growth.

Bosnia lags its Balkan neighbors in the race to join the EU, due partly to its unwieldy political structures and lack of a strong central administration.

Bosnia signed a 553 million euro ($612.7 million) loan deal with the IMF in 2016 but it was frozen in 2018 over stalled economic reforms. ($1 = 0.9025 euros)

Reporting by Maja Zuvela; Editing by Gareth Jones