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Croat politician named as prime minister-designate of Bosnia

Borjana Kristo, shown last year, pledged to focus on a host of economic and political reforms the country must implement to reach its stated goal of joining the European Union.Armin Durgut/Associated Press

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — A veteran Bosnian Croat politician received legislative backing to form a new government Wednesday, positioning her to become the first female prime minister in the Balkan country’s history.

Borjana Kristo accepted the role of prime minister-designate after 23 lawmakers in the 42-seat lower house of Bosnia’s Parliament voted to approve the appointment. She has 35 days to form a Cabinet.

Lawmakers from 10 political parties that together won 24 seats during the country’s October election agreed, despite their ideological differences, to endorse a multiethnic coalition government led by Kristo, who held various legislative and executive posts during almost three decades in politics.

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The coalition, as mandated by the Bosnian Constitution, includes representatives of the country’s three main ethnic groups – Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs.

For the first time in over a decade, the governing majority excludes the main Bosniak nationalist party, SDA. It still includes the long-entrenched Croat and Serb nationalist parties, Kristo’s HDZ and SNSD, led by staunchly pro-Russian Serb politician Milorad Dodik, respectively.

However, as part of the coalition agreement, the latter two pledged to focus on bread-and-butter issues rather than stoking the ethnic tensions never far from the surface since the end of Bosnia's brutal 1992-95 interethnic war.

In her address to lawmakers before the vote, Kristo pledged to focus on a host of economic and political reforms the country must implement to reach its stated goal of joining the European Union.

While Bosnia first expressed a desire to join the EU in 2003, the country’s ethnic leaders have so far proven unwilling to overcome their differences and implement the necessary reforms.

However, with the war in Ukraine serving as an accelerator for the EU enlargement process, the wealthy 27-nation bloc added Bosnia this month to its list of official membership candidates, despite continuing criticism of the way the country is run.

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Kristo said the EU's action presented an opportunity Bosnia “must use.”

“We must show strength to put behind the conflicts that divide us and use challenges that await us as motivation for mutual respect, cohesion and uncompromising work for the benefit of all our people,” regardless of their ethnicity, she said.

After Kristo nominates her Cabinet, lawmakers must approve her picks before the new government takes office.