The joint presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina consists of three members, one representing each of the country's three main ethnic constituencies (Bosniak, Serb, and Croat). Members are directly elected by voters in one of the country's two political entities (the Republika Srpska [RS] for the Serb member; the Bosnian Federation for the Muslim and Croat members). Chairmanship of the joint presidency rotates among the three members, with each occupying the post for eight months, during which time he is the country's official head of state.
The major presidential responsibilities are in the area of foreign policy and include relations with foreign countries and international organizations, appointment of ambassadors and other international representatives, negotiating treaties, and cooperation with nongovernmental organizations. The members of the presidency are also responsible for presenting an annual budget to Parliament and executing parliamentary decisions.
In its first years, the tripartite presidency was viewed as a marginal institution and the least effective of all of the joint Bosnian institutions. Further progress is seen as contingent on the ability of the three members to work together productively. Due to the postwar conditions of Bosnia, and because of the heavy Western military and UN presence, much power is held in the hands of the international community. The UN High Representative for Bosnia in particular has great power, including the power to dismiss any public official who engages in action contrary to the Constitution of Bosnia. Wolfgang Petrisch, who served in the post from 1999–2002, turned over the post to former British parliamentarian Paddy Ashdown in May 2002.