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Bosnia

MOSTAR ELECTIONS POLITICAL ANALYSIS
 
July 13 1996




 

What happened

  1. The day

    Despite many sleepless nights for European planners, the June 30 elections�the first for Mostarians in more than five years�were carried out without incident. Some 3,000 international troops and police officers, together with some 2,000 omnipresent Bosniak and Croat police, created a blanket of security in the ethnically-divided town. Because the rules required Mostarians to vote where they lived in 1991, the 97 polling stations were the scenes for both tense encounters and for tearful reunions, though few of those who were visiting their neighbourhoods for the first time wandered too far from their buses to visit their homes.

    Of an eligible 106,568 voters, 58,301 Mostarians voted -- 7,426 of whom cast ballots in four polling stations that were set up in Bern, Bonn, Oslo and Stockholm. IFOR reported that 18,000 voters travelled to Mostar from elsewhere for the occasion. Though an estimated 17,000 Serb voters now live outside Mostar, the Belgrade Association of Refugees sent only four buses containing 150 people.

    The results of the City Council elections came as no real shock. A multiethnic "United Democrats" coalition led by Jola Musa captured just 1,937 votes; the HDZ list under west Mostar mayor Mijo Brajkovic took 26,680 and the SDA coalition headed by east Mostar mayor Safet Orucevic -- which also included the Liberal party, the Party for B-H, the Liberal Bosniak and the Serb Citizen Forum -- tallied 28,505.

  2. The aftermath

    In an attempt to preserve Mostar's pre-war ethnic structure, the EUAM had drafted an electoral statute in February that allotted 16 city council seats to the Bosniaks, 16 to the Croats and 5 to "others." Thanks to a complicated electoral system, the SDA coalition victory -- narrow though it was -- meant that all five of the new council's "others" would be Serbs from their list while none would come from the HDZ list. Thanks in part to the vote of Serbs, in part to the Croat votes for Musa, and largely to the vote abroad, the SDA list gained control the City Council�if the vote stands.

    The Croats gained legal grounds to protest the unfavourable results because twenty-six extra ballots ended up in the ballot box in Bonn. The electoral law expressly states that this circumstance requires a re-vote, and the Mostar city electoral commission voted 4-3 to annul the Bonn vote.

    Nonetheless, amid much criticism, the European Union ombudsman decided that the results should stand. Having lost the election and having opposed the reunification of the city to begin with, the Croats are now arguing that the "newly -elected" city council is illegitimate.

What it means

The Mostar election highlighted the role that international forces on the ground can play in guaranteeing freedom of movement when they choose to. IFOR said it was serious, and it produced the hardware to demonstrate its seriousness. As a result, thousands crossed the former confrontation line, and even Mostar's gangs opted to give violence a rest for the day.

It showed that ordinary Bosniak and Croat Mostarians can interact peacefully -- indeed warmly�when given the chance. The election served as a great pretext for interaction, and should have reminded international planners and local political leaders that the people must be given reasons to cross the former confrontation lines.

It illustrated that, in a town that has not even seen fighting for more than two years, Bosnian voters think -- and vote -- on ethnic lines. This is a lesson for opposition politicians throughout Bosnia who hope to "chip away" on September 14 at the current, monopolistic state structures. They may chip, but the chips appear destined to be small.

Less than a week before the election, OSCE Chairman Flavio Cotti had said the conditions in Bosnia could not allow for a free or fair vote. In advance of election day, it was clear that Mostarians enjoyed neither freedom of movement, freedom of expression, nor freedom of assembly and association. In a climate of fear, Bosnians who voted on non-ethnic grounds were bound to be a distinct minority -- perhaps best reflected in the dismal showing for Jola Musa's coalition, which was comprised of 11 Muslims, 3 Croats and 4 Serbs (3 of whom are refugees in Belgrade). If the conditions do not change drastically (and virtually overnight), only Milosevic's Socialist Party in Banja Luka stands any real chance of putting a dent into the three national parties' grips on power in September.

It revealed the progress the east and west Mostar police forces have made in recent months. The liaison between the two sides in security planning was the United Police Force of Mostar (UPFM), which was fathered by the WEU in April after more than a year and a half of stalemate. As the election proved, no institution is as important as the police to peace in Mostar and to the ultimate reunification of the town. Though the UPFM joint patrols are cosmetic, they send important signals to the rest of the townspeople about the potential for coexistence, and, perhaps more importantly, they bring draft-age men together for cigarettes, beer and gossip. Such forced interaction (like the election) is imperative to healing wounds.

Although voter turnout was high, the final tally did not reflect the pre-war ethnic composition of Mostar because no effort was made to facilitate the voting of Serb displaced persons living in Republika Srpska and Serbia. [In the 1991 census, 34.8% of Mostar's people classified themselves as Bosniak, 33.8% as Croat and 19% as Serb.]

The electoral aftermath shows that the intentions of Croat leaders have not changed. Though they played the electoral game, as was required by the EU statute, they have not abandoned their dream of an ethnically-divided Mostar. Even before the Croats seized upon the Bonn irregularity to protest the election, they had already petitioned the EU to join "their" three Croat-majority municipalities.

The period since the election has also underscored the ongoing instability of the political scene and the importance of an independent outside presence. The EUAM is still crucial in three respects. First, the WEU presence is linked to that of the EUAM (see below). Second, in a town where evictions still occur at a rate of two per week and where violence is commonplace, the EUAM acts as a facilitator and interlocutor while the WEU serves as a visible (if not practically potent) deterrent. Both have a soothing effect and do help ensure that incidents do not escalate. Third, the experienced personnel who are familiar with the local personalities and tactics, and are determined in their quest to create joint institutions, are vital in this stormy transition period. In addition to helping iron out some of the administrative and political wrinkles inherent in a transition of this scale, the EUAM's mere presence keeps media attention on Mostar, and European pressure on Zagreb.

The election and its aftermath highlighted the importance of the EUAM's powers of binding arbitration. It was the EU Ombudsman who admitted Musa's coalition and declared the electoral results valid, and it was the EU legal department that drafted the electoral statute and established the quota system guaranteeing multiethnic representation. This binding power�imperfect as it has proven itself�is a great asset of last resort.

Lessons for September

  1. Registration

    In Mostar thousands of eligible voters went to verify their names and districts in advance of the election and found a mistake, such as missing DOB or wrong district. Hundreds of those who had not checked their names in advance were turned away disappointed on election day. In Bonn, for instance, of the 4,000-plus voters, 421 were turned away. For the country-wide elections OSCE registration is much more complicated, as each local election committee will have to find the name somewhere amid a multi-volume census for the entire B-H and must choose his place of voting. So far OSCE officials have said they expect most Bosnians to leave registration until the last minute. However, if thousands of voters had to alter their information in Mostar alone, the electoral commissions may well be overwhelmed by the last minute rush, especially in the light of # 2 below.

    From a technical point of view, the American and European governments should direct OSCE to stress urgently (by radio advertisement, pamphlet or poster) that those not correctly registered will not be able to vote. It should inform voters, in far graver terms than the current campaign, of the likelihood of error and of the fact that those who have not checked to verify their electoral status will miss their chance.


  2. Clarify whether Mostar elections will be re-held in September

    In Mostar individuals could vote only "where they were" in 1991. No Bosnian who has come to Mostar since 1991 was able to vote and thereby alter the pre-war ethnic balance. In the Bosnia-wide elections, by contrast, citizens can vote "where they were" or "where they are." This could drastically affect the results. In the Mostar election, if Croat displaced persons living in west Mostar had been allowed to vote, it might well have meant a large victory for HDZ.

    The EUAM, which retains administrative power until late July and should attempt to keep it longer, should reject Croat attempts to force a September re-vote. Both the Mostar electoral statute and the Dayton Agreement imply that local elections must be held again in Mostar in September, so the OSCE must clarify the matter as soon as possible. It will greatly hinder the functioning of the newly-elected bodies if one side believes that stalling will ensure another round of local elections. If the OSCE does in fact opt to hold Mostar local elections again during the September country-wide vote, it must apply the EUAM rules and not the OSCE rules. Alhough it would be anomalous to distinguish Mostar in this fashion, only the EUAM rules guarantee an equitable distribution of seats in the joint institutions.


  3. Freedom of movement

    In Mostar because the rules generally did not permit absentee balloting, they facilitated�in fact forced�freedom of movement. This was the election's greatest achievement. Because Muslims expelled from west Mostar had to vote in person, instead of by mail, they had to confront the enemy. For many it was the first time they had crossed since 1993. The country-wide rules do permit absentee balloting. If Srebrenica refugees in Tuzla choose to vote "where they were" rather than "where they are," they are free to do so by absentee ballot without crossing into Republika Srpska. This may be wise for security reasons�the wounds from Serb-Muslim fighting are fresher, and IFOR will not be able to secure, throughout the whole of Bosnia, to even a fraction of the degree they were able to secure Mostar�but it will likely mean that the September elections are the worst of both worlds: the nationalists will win easily and former neighbours and friends will not have the chance to interact again. A Croat refugee will not return to Banja Luka to vote when he can do so from a polling station in Mostar or Zagreb.

    IFOR and IPTF should not wait until election day to secure freedom of movement for Bosnians. The international forces have proven themselves most capable of ensuring that citizens can move freely. The High Representative's Office should target certain sister cities where, on a given day, within a limited geographical space (like Mostar) the troops create the conditions for unhindered movement. Rather than announcing the plan in advance and allowing radical groups to convene, the plan should be announced but with the threats and conviction like in Mostar that shows they mean business. In order for this to succeed, however, people must be given reasons to cross, e.g. rock or symphonic concerts, sporting events, etc. -- advertised country-wide -- that, when security is guaranteed, would attract visitors from all sides. Interaction is the only phenomenon that will combat the demonisation that the national parties have employed. Only freedom of movement can inform the people's choice; it should not merely serve as a by-product of that choice.


  4. Polling committees

    In the country-wide elections the ethnic composition of the polling committees will be less important than in Mostar, since virtually all citizens will be voting in a mono-ethnic environment (Serbs will vote in RS, Croats in HB, Muslims in BH territory). However, the absence of opposition party representatives on those committees will be extremely significant -- again both in terms of the potential for fraud, but also because of the likelihood that an all-SDS, all-SDA or all-HDZ committee will dictate the way the votes are cast. The fear in Bosnia cuts both ways�there is tremendous fear of the other, but also considerable fear of the state.

    The OSCE must do everything in its power to ensure that each of the local election or polling committees in each of the municipalities throughout Bosnia is comprised of at least one representative of an opposition party.


  5. Media

    In Mostar Jola Musa's opposition coalition did not stand a chance. West Mostar television and radio refused to sign an agreement opening up the airwaves to alternative views. In the week before the election, Musa was evicted from his office premises, and four of the Croat candidates in his coalition were so intimidated by threats that they dropped out. Two evenings before the vote, Croatian Television aired a prime-time "documentary" on the cunning Muslim plot to expel Croats from Mostar.

    The desperate need for a second television channel is common knowledge. If Bildt's alternative station can not be established soon, the United States and Germany should pressure Zagreb to open up one of their three HTV stations to pre-election programming. HTV reaches much of Bosnia, and Croats have much to gain from the election of moderate Serbs in Republika Srpska and moderate Bosniaks in the Federation.

    Because the results of the Mostar elections were prescribed to a large extent by a quota system guaranteeing minorities seats, many of the mistakes or quirks outlined above made little difference in the final tally. In an election of the scale and importance of September's however, the mistakes have the potential to do far more profound�and lasting�damage.

What more can be done?

The joint institutions must meet, and they must function. Rightly or wrongly, the EU Ombudsman has spoken and has concluded that the electoral results stand. Since he has binding powers, his decisions must indeed bind�both for the sake of Mostar and for what's left of EUAM credibility. The Croats are already demanding that the local elections be held again in September according to OSCE rules, which would be to the advantage of those seeking permanent partition.

Pressure should be brought to bear on the United States and German governments. They must inform Zagreb that they stand fully behind the electoral results and the joint institutions, and that Croats have no alternative but to submit to the EU decision. These governments should attempt to nip Croatian stalling tactics in the bud and state plainly that there will be no local elections in Mostar in September.

Brussels must direct the EUAM, while it retains its "administrative" status, to expedite the formation and functioning of the city council, offering the offices of the Hotel Ero for the first city council session and getting Croatian President Tudjman, German Foreign Minister Kinkel and other dignitaries to attend.

At the municipal level (where the Croats did not lose and do not contest) UPFM joint patrols should escort those Muslim or Croat displaced representatives who feel insecure about crossing to the other side to assume their posts. These meetings must commence immediately.

Although Brussels seems to have already decided to maintain an EUAM presence, its terms have not been fully articulated. Now is the time to lobby the European Union governments�especially Germany (because of its special relationship with Zagreb) and Ireland (because of the EU Presidency) -- to maintain a robust political role. If at all possible, some powers of binding arbitration must be preserved. Though EUAM2's "mere presence" will be as stabilising as its departure would be destabilising, a toothless function promises only more expenditures, more frustration and more failure to unify the town's two halves.

European governments must be made recognise that the UPFM is too fragile to abandon. WEU managerial power must be preserved until its senior officers are convinced that the UPFM has solidified to an extent that will permit the severing of the umbilical cord. Because the WEU patrols in themselves accomplish little in terms of actual law enforcement, the small force can safely be halved without much of a destabilising effect. However, complete elimination of the WEU role by the end of December, as is currently planned, is arbitrary: it is budget-based and politically-based deadline, but not an event- or progress-based one. Though there is a danger of the foreign presence becoming a crutch, EU leaders must be told of the danger of squandering the EU investment by withdrawing the relatively low-cost body before the time is ripe.

IPTF, which is slated to take over when the WEU leaves, will earmark approximately 30 officers for the Mostar region. They will be empowered only to monitor. WEU planners argue that Mostar should be "brought into line" with the rest of Bosnia by coming under IPTF control. But mere inconsistency is insufficient to justify risking the UPFM.

Brussels must be urged to announce the prolongation of the EUAM and WEU mandate immediately. The delay and uncertainty it has caused has vastly undermined the UPFM, whose progress has stalled pending an announcement.

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