Why the Bosnian Elections
The International Crisis Group (ICG)
has been monitoring the implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement
(DPA) in Bosnia and Herzegovina since early March 1996. In a report
in May on prospects for holding democratic elections as foreseen
by the DPA, ICG expressed the hope that announcing a date for
the elections would spur efforts by the international community
to press the Parties to implement the Dayton Peace Agreement.
ICG believed that the signatories to the DPA would be persuaded
at least to begin the repatriation and reintegration of refugees
and displaced persons; to deliver indicted war criminals for trial;
and to ensure greater freedom of movement and expression. In June
ICG said that willing the ends of the elections also meant willing
the means of realizing them and that they must be called off if
the circumstances did not significantly improve in the next three
months. Now with only a month to go ICG has concluded that most
of the conditions for holding elections have not improved and
that in many respects they have actually deteriorated. Of course
ICG recognizes that it is the responsibility of the Parties to
the DPA to address these unsatisfactory conditions, but it has
always been understood that they would do so only when subjected
to strenuous and continuous pressure from the international community.
It has become clear in the interval that, on the civilian side
of Dayton, the international community's political efforts and
financial resources have failed to convince the Parties to meet
their obligations. Since even minimum conditions for the elections
to be effective do not exist and are unlikely to be created within
the remaining period, ICG recommends the Organisation for Security
and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) should withdraw certification
and proposes that the elections be postponed.
The State of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Federation), and the Republika Srpska (Parties) pledged to "promote free, fair, and democratic elections, ... lay the foundation for representative government and ensure the progressive achievement of democratic goals throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina." They requested that the OSCE certify whether elections could be "effective under current social conditions in both Entities." They agreed that the elections, if certified, would take place within nine months of the signing, which meant no later than 14 September 1996.
At a peace implementation conference
in early June, the Parties again stressed the importance of holding
free and fair elections within the time period established by
the DPA. They also "recommitted themselves to the task of
establishing the necessary conditions for the elections"
and urged the OSCE to announce the date on which elections would
be held "on the basis of the conditions specified by the
OSCE and the [Dayton] Agreement." Declaring a specific date,
they said, would "provide a focus for the work remaining
to achieve the full standards established by the OSCE," and
they left no doubt about their interpretation of the DPA or the
OSCE certification, stating, "Achievement of these standards
is essential for the holding of free and fair elections."
When on 25 June, the OSCE chairman-in-office
Flavio Cotti issued the long expected certification and gave the
green light for the elections to take place on 14 September, he
warned that if certain minimal prerequisites were not met during
the remaining three months, the elections ought not take place
as they would lead to further tensions and "pseudo-democratic
legitimisation of extreme nationalist power structures."
The nine-month deadline for holding the elections formulated
in the DPA was not cast in stone, but hinged upon the Parties'
fulfillment of the obligation to meet minimum conditions for free
and fair elections. In particular Cotti noted the need to
establish freedom of movement, freedom of expression and media,
freedom of association, and, more generally, a politically neutral
environment. The most important prerequisite, in Cotti's view,
was the elimination of "every single possibility of direct
or indirect exertion of influence by indicted war criminals."
Cotti acknowledged that, "after [the] years of war and suffering,
perfectionism is out of place," but he stressed that "just
the same: Minimal prerequisite conditions must be met so that
'free, fair, and democratic elections' can take place,"
preconditions that he said plainly had then "in spite of
the small progress mentioned, not been fulfilled."
The OSCE chairman-in-office added, "we
have scarcely three months separating us from the election day.
This period must be employed in order to improve the framework
conditions. This is absolutely imperative for us all. With this
in mind, I appeal to all of the actors both in Bosnia and Herzegovina
and abroad to observe their commitments to the fullest extent.
I appeal to the international community and to the international
organisations to persevere in their efforts for the implementation
of the Peace Agreement with even more determination than before....
Improving the freedom of movement and establishing transportation
links and telephone communications beyond the boundaries of the
entities, is an unalterable and concrete must. The same holds
true for facilitating the factual return of the refugees and displaced
persons, as well as for the realisation of media projects...,
and for a generally enhanced freedom of the media."
However, as ICG will demonstrate in
this report, the prerequisite conditions have not improved since
mid-June. On the contrary, in many respects the conditions have
deteriorated. Under such conditions, the OSCE should not preside
over an election which will only lend a sheen of democratic legitimacy
to a process neither fair nor free, and which will only legitimise
ethnic cleansing and expedite partition. The OSCE chairman-in-office
should withdraw the certification and propose that the elections
be postponed to a date when minimum conditions in the country
permit the holding of free, fair, and effective elections.
A. Repatriation far short of expectations,
reintegration a mere fantasy
The Parties to the DPA agreed that the
early return of refugees and displaced persons was an "important
objective of the settlement of the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina."
They committed themselves to "take all necessary steps to
prevent activities within their territories which would hinder
or impede the safe and voluntary return of refugees and displaced
persons," and they pledged themselves to "create in
their territories political, economic, and social conditions conducive
to the voluntary return and harmonious reintegration of refugees
and displaced persons." The right of all refugees and displaced
persons to return to their homes is reiterated in the Constitution
of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
With the above commitments in mind,
the Parties concluded that "by Election Day, the return of
refugees should already be underway." However, this is not
By mid-August, only 100,000 of over
2 million refugees and displaced persons had returned, and principally
to areas where the returnees belonged to the majority ethnic group.
And even this is a misleading figure because close to 80,000 persons
belonging to minority groups have been displaced since the signing
of the DPA.
Upon their brief return to territories
controlled by one of the other nationalities, refugees and internally
displaced persons are increasingly subject to arbitrary police
controls, open discrimination, expulsions, arbitrary detention,
and violence. Even short assessment visits by groups of displaced
persons across the inter-entity boundary line (IEBL) are prevented
by mob violence or other threats - only two out of some 40 visits
planned and organised by UNHCR have been successful during the
past two months. Individual initiatives are even more at risk.
In a small sample of cases reported in recent days by the International
Police Task Force (IPTF): on 28 July one Bosniac man who attempted
to visit his former home near Doboj, Republika Srpska territory,
was found in a ditch with his thumbs severed and ribs smashed
- he died later; another Bosniac died of internal bleeding after
beatings in Banja Luka police custody; and, in early August, a
Bosniac mob stoned a Serb attempting to return to his home in
a suburb of Sarajevo. The incidents are often tolerated by the
authorities, and in some cases carried out with their participation.
B. Indicted war criminals still at large
As of mid-August, out of a total of
75 war criminals indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal
for the former Yugoslavia (Tribunal), only seven low-ranking indictees
had been arrested or had surrendered to the Tribunal in The Hague.
The rest remain at large and, in most cases, their whereabouts
in Republika Srpska, Yugoslavia, Croatia and Croat-controlled
parts of the Federation are well known. Some of the accused are
still exerting influence on their communities in a manner incompatible
with the goals formulated in the DPA, if not openly then behind
When the OSCE chairman-in-office Cotti
certified the elections, he said that the Parties' full cooperation
with the Tribunal was a precondition for creating the necessary
political conditions for free, fair, and democratic elections,
and that "every single possibility of direct or indirect
exertion of influence by indicted war criminals of the likes of
Radovan Karadzic, must be hindered." Cotti went beyond merely
calling for the removal of suspected war criminals from office;
he said, "Cooperation with the Tribunal at The Hague must
become a fact.... If no actions are undertaken right now against
the indicted war criminals, it can be taken for granted that the
elections will very quickly give way to developments diametrically
opposed to those which they were expected to yield. There exists
the most serious danger that they then degenerate into a pseudo-democratic
legitimisation of extreme nationalist power structures and ethnic
cleansing. Instead of the peaceful evolution in keeping with the
Peace Agreement, the elections would lead to further dramatic
tensions. Under no conditions whatsoever ... should we permit
such a development to ensue."
After many setbacks the international
community was able to force the resignation of Radovan Karadzic
from the presidency of Republika Srpska as well as the SDS. However,
Republika Srpska is still laden with campaign posters with Karadzic's
visage, SDS politicians introduce themselves on behalf of their
"closest associate" and make frequent reference to Karadzic,
and, as US envoy John Kornblum stated, there is also "evidence
[Karadzic] could be participating in decisions." In
other words, not only does Karadzic remain at large, but he is
still "exercising political influence." One example
of such influence is provided in a statement issued by the SDS
on the occasion of Karadzic's resignation from the party presidency
- "President Karadzic's view is that everyone must vote at
the elections, and vote for the SDS, in order to prevent puppet
and Muslim Parties from getting the one-third of the vote they
need to drown the Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina."
C. Freedom of movement virtually impossible
The Parties to the DPA agreed to "ensure
... freedom of movement." At the June Geneva implementation
conference they reaffirmed their belief that the right to move
freely and without fear throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina was
a cornerstone of elections. In order to ensure that election preparations
were conducted as smoothly as possible, the Parties committed
themselves to facilitate the traffic of vehicles between the two
entities, to ensure that local authorities cease confiscating
identity documents issued by either entity, to re-establish telephone
connections between the entities, and to allow all candidates
and Parties to engage in political activity and campaign freely
and without obstruction in both entities.
However, on none of these issues has
there been satisfactory progress. Individuals who venture into
areas or entities not under the control of their own nationality
are often threatened, subjected to violence, detained, or even
murdered. Despite bureaucratic obstacles concocted by authorities
mainly in Republika Srpska, seven UNHCR sponsored bus-lines have
been ferrying displaced persons between the two entities. However,
the buses are often stoned and passengers harassed, even detained.
Because the license plates of private cars generally denote the
ethnicity of passengers, individual visits take place by foot,
bicycle, taxi, or foreign-plated car, to avoid harassment.
D. Freedom of expression for the ruling
The Parties to the DPA agreed to "ensure
that conditions exist for the organisation of free and fair elections,
in particular ... freedom of expression and of the press".
In mid-June Cotti said that independent
media "continue to be hindered by various obstacles to their
development." In Republika Srpska, specifically, he said
there were "in fact no independent media at all," and
he stressed that the state media were heavily biased in favor
of the ruling Parties." Since Cotti's statement, again, the
situation has deteriorated.
Commitments to open up the media during
the election campaign made by state television in Republika Srpska
in May are being flouted on a daily basis. While Republika Srpska
television has set aside an hour and a half each night to political
parties ostensibly to give them a chance to present themselves
to the electorate, the programs have descended into an attempt
to smear all opposition to the SDS. As a result, aspiring politicians
spend most of the allotted time defending themselves and their
war records from accusations made by pre-selected and carefully
rehearsed viewers. When opposition politicians complained about
their treatment, Republika Srpska television editorial board issued
a statement saying that the station was defending the national
interest and Republika Srpska and concluding that:
"[Bosnian] Serb television will
not allow certain parties and their leaders to attack, humiliate
and hurt its journalists and editors with their groundless accusations.
Political parties and coalitions which think that they will generate
support from viewers through lies and still take part in the pre-election
campaign, must expect to be pulled from the screen of [Bosnian]
When representatives of the Party for
Democratic Action (SDA) of Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic
appeared on this program, as was their right, the television picture
rapidly broke up to be replaced after 14 minutes of blank screens
by pop videos.
The Croat station HTV in the southern
town of Mostar never signed up to any commitments and has made
no effort to open itself up to the opposition during the election
campaign. Bosnian television, by contrast, has generally been
compliant, although there have been complaints that opposition
party events have not been reported.
Television news coverage in both Republika
Srpska and Croat-controlled Federation territory remains highly
partial and systematically violates the electoral code of conduct
drawn up by the Provision Electoral Commission (PEC). Meanwhile,
international attempts to influence the media have failed to have
any impact or even address the fundamental problems. A Swiss-financed
election radio station began broadcasting on 15 July. However,
it broadcasts out of Sarajevo with a staff based in Bosniac-controlled
Federation territory. As a result, it effectively only covers
the part of the country where the media is already the most open.
The TV-IN, an $US 11 million television
station sponsored by the Office of the High Representative which
was supposed to span Bosnia and Herzegovina and provide an alternative
to the state-controlled media, has yet to begin broadcasting.
Technically it has been very difficult to assemble such a station
so quickly; politically it has proven even more problematic. Bosnian
President Alija Izetbegovic has yet to give the project the go-ahead
and allocate a frequency. At present, the station is supposed
to go on air in early September (even this is optimistic), which
is too late to have a real influence on the electorate before
voting day. In any case, the station is based on a network of
five local, essentially Bosniac stations and again broadcasts
from Sarajevo, thereby minimizing the potential impact in Republika
Srpska and Croat-controlled federation territory.
E. Political environment anything but
The Parties to the DPA agreed to "ensure
that conditions exist for the organisation of free and fair elections,
in particular a politically neutral environment".
It is difficult to imagine how the environment
in Bosnia and Herzegovina could be characterized as "politically
neutral" when refugees and displaced persons are unable to
return to their homes, indicted war criminals remain at large
(some of whom exert political influence), the inter-entity boundary
line and even the former Bosniac-Croat frontlines are still difficult
and dangerous to cross, and only the ruling parties enjoy freedom
of expression in most areas of the country.
Now that the election campaign has started,
the ruling parties are in fact going to great lengths to propagate
fear and insecurity among voters. For example, advertisements
of the Croat Democratic Party (HDZ) tell Croat voters that the
"survival of their nation" is at stake on 14 September.
Republika Srpska television, for its part, announces that a vote
against the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) constitutes a vote "against
the Republika Srpska and the Serb people."
Perhaps the most graphic evidence of
the climate, as it exists in Bosnia, is the tactics used by the
Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat authorities in voter registration
(see below). Both groups are manipulating the electoral rules
to suit political ends and consolidate with the ballot that which
they won with the bullet.
A. Abuses of voter registration are turning
the Dayton Agreement into an ethnic cleansers' charter
While the architects of the DPA intended
elections to contribute to the reintegration of Bosnia and Herzegovina,
the Republika Srpska authorities have seized upon part of a single
sentence and abused their authority to turn the agreement into
an ethnic cleansers' charter.
It is clear that most displaced Bosnians
were expected to be voting in the municipalities in which they
were living in 1991 in order to start the process of reintegration.
Voting elsewhere was to be the exception. Under the electoral
rules and regulations drawn up by the Provisional Election Commission,
displaced persons wishing to vote in the municipality in which
they were currently living and not where they lived in 1991 had
to apply to the local electoral commissions and fill out a so-called
Had displaced Serbs chosen of their
own free will to switch their vote from their previous homes in
the Federation to their new place of residence in Republika Srpska,
this might have been acceptable. However, the Bosnian Serb authorities
systematically pressured them into registering to vote in Republika
Srpska and not in the municipalities in which they were living
in 1991. In the former frontline town of Doboj, for example, the
official SDS-controlled Commission for Refugees and Displaced
Persons decreed that displaced persons would only receive housing
and food benefits on presentation of a special certificate which
they could only acquire by showing voter registration form II.
Serb radio in Prijedor announced that those Serb displaced persons
who voted in absentia in their previous places of residence were
"directly attacking the Serbian nation."
These tactics were subsequently extended
to many other regions of Republika Srpska with the result that
by the end of the registration process more than 240,000 displaced
Bosnian Serbs had registered to vote where they live today. Thus,
what was supposed to be the exception has in practice become the
rule, distorting the spirit if not the letter of the DPA. Moreover,
the votes of displaced Serbs are clearly being used to boost the
Bosnian Serb vote in key areas such as Srebrenica to prevent the
return of Bosniacs. Republika Srpska Radio now uses the voter
figures to boast, "none of the refugees expressed a wish
to vote in the Muslim-Croat entity proving once again that any
living together is impossible."
At a press conference in Sarajevo on
9 August 1996, the OSCE Coordinator for International Monitors
(CIM) Edward van Thijn described this voter registration fraud,
painting a dismal picture of the political environment in the
country. "It is not fraud in favor of a political candidate
but it is fraud in favor of solving territorial problems,"
he said, "It's very sinister. Displaced persons ... are moved
around against their will in order to fulfill all sorts of political
aims. I think it's a serious violation of human rights."
He said attempts to coerce displaced persons into voting in "strategic
municipalities" was a blatant example of "electoral
engineering," and he cited in particular the fact that Bosnian
Serb refugees in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had been directed
to cast ballots in under-populated areas of Republika Srpska,
including Brcko, Srebrenica and Zvornik, while Bosnian Croat leaders
were trying to force as many displaced Croats as possible to vote
Until the complete breakdown of voter
registration is available, it is impossible to say exactly what
has been taking place among Bosnia and Herzegovina's Croats. However,
there is considerable anecdotal evidence that, as van Thijn noted,
the Croat vote is also being manipulated and Croats too are attempting
to continue the war by other means. Since pockets of Croats, such
as Kiseljak and Vitez, are at present isolated in Central Bosnia,
the Croat authorities appear to be attempting to use the election
to build a corridor joining them to Croat-controlled western Herzegovina.
They also hope to achieve this by using the right to vote where
one intends to live (Form III) to boost the Croat vote in Bosniac-held
towns such as Gornji Vakuf and Fojnica.
B. Absence of OSCE response to abuses
While the OSCE has established a range
of commissions to deal with electoral abuses-in particular the
Election Appeals Sub-Commission and the Media Experts Commission
(both staffed with Serb, Croat and Bosniac representatives and
internationals)-these bodies have failed to take resolute remedial
The Election Appeals Sub-Commission
is theoretically the most powerful weapon in the OSCE's arsenal.
It is able, for example, to strike candidates from party lists
and even ban political parties which refuse to abide by the electoral
rules and regulations drawn up by the Provisional Election Commission.
However, despite a plethora of abuses, it has only taken real
action on one occasion when it struck the first seven candidates
from the SDA's list in Bihac after members of that party were
responsible for attacking Haris Silajdzic, leader of the opposition
Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina, while he visited the area.
The SDS's attempt to manipulate voter-registration
in Doboj (see above) goes unpunished. Despite receiving a first
report into the matter as early as 13 July, the OSCE has thus
far imposed no penalty, settling instead for the dissemination
of "a strongly worded radio announcement." Meanwhile,
voter registration has been completed and virtually all displaced
Bosnian Serbs are registered to vote in Republika Srpska.
The Media Experts Commission is also
supposedly equipped with teeth, since it can withdraw press accreditation
from journalists and fine offending stations and publications
up to $US 25,000 if they break the electoral code of conduct drawn
up by the PEC. However, it has generally chosen to issue warnings
rather than take resolute action. The Commission's only vaguely
combative move has been to order Ilija Guzina, editor of state
television in Republika Srpska, to apologize on air for an inflammatory
commentary on 29 June and to point out the inaccuracies contained
in it. Predictably, Guzina has not even responded.
C. Conclusions drawn by parties
Because the local authorities are organizing
the elections and the OSCE simply supervising them, the elections
may be undermined at any time by the authorities in either Republika
Srpska or in the Federation. The cooperation of the ruling parties
is critical to the event and if any side decides that elections
are no longer in its best interest, it can simply instruct the
local electoral commissions to resign. The precedent has already
been set in Mostar in May when the Bosniac authorities demanded
concessions that the European Union Administration in Mostar (EUAM)
initially refused to grant. After the local electoral commissions
withdrew their labor, the EUAM was obliged to give way and the
elections were postponed one month.
A. The Day
1. Voter Confusion
The Bosnian electorate has only had
one multi-party election-in 1990. Yet voters on 14 September are
being asked to cast ballots in five separate elections, a daunting
task for any electorate in the world. This degree of complexity
is in fact unnecessary, as the OSCE is not obliged to supervise
so many elections at one time. The DPA states that the Parties
request the OSCE to supervise: "The preparation and conduct
of elections for the House of Representatives of Bosnia and Herzegovina;
for the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina; for the House of
Representatives of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina; for
the National Assembly of the Republika Srpska; for the Presidency
of the Republika Srpska; and, if feasible, for cantonal
legislatures and municipal governing authorities."
It would have been possible to delay
the cantonal and municipal elections and thus simplify what was
already an exceptionally complicated ballot. Moreover, by delaying
the municipal elections, it would also have been possible to extend
the registration process and thus ensure that a much greater proportion
of Bosnians were able to vote.
2. Disenfranchised voters
Many Bosnians will be unable to vote
in the elections. This is in part a result of the complexity of
the electoral process and the fact that Bosnians are dispersed
throughout the world. However, it is also a result of the severe
under-funding of the OSCE's mission during the first six months
of its operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Two top level resignations
in May-those of chief-of-staff William Stuebner and director general
of elections Judy Thompson-and the dispatch of former Danish foreign
minister Ufe Ellemann-Jensen to OSCE member state capitals with
a begging bowl were required to generate the funds and staffing
necessary for the operation. The absence of information technology
professionals early on delayed the start of the registration process
by more than two months. Though registration was supposed to begin
on 1 April, the process did not finally get under way until 10
The decision to press ahead with cantonal
and municipal elections made the deadline for voter registration
extremely tight, and the logistical task much greater, since applications
for absentee ballots had to be broken down into municipalities.
As a result, unless they return to vote in person in the municipalities
in which they were living in 1991, more than 300,000 Bosnian refugees
will be effectively disenfranchised on election day.
As many as 300,000 displaced persons
and refugees may attempt to cross the inter-entity boundary line
(IEBL) and the former Bosniac-Croat frontlines to vote in the
municipalities from which they were expelled. These are persons
who have not registered to vote by absentee ballot and are thus
obliged to return to the municipality in which they were living
at the time of the 1991 census to take part in the election.
Given that organized crossings of the
former confrontation lines have frequently ended in clashes between
rival ethnic groups, violence must be expected on election day.
Indeed, the Bosnian Serb who presides over the Brcko Municipal
Assembly has said he will regard the presence of any Bosniac voters
in Brcko on election day as a "provocation". In interviews
Aleksa Buha, foreign minister of Republika Srpska and president
of the SDS, has said that Bosnian Serb police will turn back Bosniacs
heading for areas where they constituted a pre-war majority. Buha
has also stated on many occasions that he considers the IEBL to
be an international border.
Given the complexity of the election
and the inadequate preparations, the potential for irregularities
is great. Because of its tight time-frame, the OSCE has not been
able to produce precise voting lists for each polling station.
Instead, voters are able to cast their ballots in any polling
station in their municipality, and every single polling station
has the entire list of eligible voters. To prevent multiple voting,
voters will have their fingers marked with an invisible dye that
shows up under infrared light. Before casting their ballot, they
will have to pass their hand under the light to prove that they
have not already voted. However, since the number of voters using
a particular polling station has not been determined in advance,
the crush at certain polling stations may be so great that mistakes
are made and a second ballot is required.
In addition, because an estimated 100,000
deceased persons have not been taken off the voter registration
list, there is further potential for fraud. OSCE officials fear
that Serb refugees from Krajina or Muslims from the Sandzak region
in Serbia may assume the voting credentials of the deceased. As
one OSCE official quipped, "At the end, we can say that we
have made sure that even the dead-if they come to vote-will do
so only once."
Even if events were to proceed smoothly
on election day, the aftermath could prove fatal to the integrated
Bosnian state structure envisaged by the Dayton Agreement, to
the hopes of refugees and displaced persons who would like to
return to their homes, and perhaps even to the year-long cessation
1. Repercussions on the ground
There are several possible repercussions
of holding elections now, each of which will likely play out in
different parts of the country and at different levels in the
To varying degrees, the three ruling
parties will be able to exploit the feelings of patriotism and
fear brought on by the war. The SDA will no doubt be credited
by Bosniac voters for leading Bosnia to independence from Yugoslavia;
the SDS and HDZ will be credited for providing Serbs and Croats
respectively with enormous autonomy and, in the case of the Serbs,
international recognition of their "republic". The fear
of voters has been heightened by complicated voting rules that
afford the "other" with the possibility to make electoral
inroads in areas currently outside "their" control (such
as Croats in Brcko, Bosniacs in Srebrenica and Trnovo).
If, for instance, those who might vote
for the opposition in Republika Srpska are told such a vote will
only reduce the Serb chances and contribute to the election of
Bosniacs, they will likely set their political instincts aside
and, for the sake of the nation, close ranks (as in 1990) behind
the ruling party which stands the best chance of winning and representing
their interests. Each of the ruling parties profits from the strength,
and the radical propaganda, of the other two. The more likely
it is that SDS will win in Republika Srpska, for example, the
more likely it is that Bosniac displaced persons, fearing that
they will not be able to return home peacefully, will vote for
the army-backed SDA.
The profitability of the nationalist
tactics and the strength of the ruling parties has been evidenced
already by the results of the June 30 Mostar municipal poll, where,
of more than 58,000 votes casts, all but 1,937 went to either
the ruling HDZ party or the coalition headed by the ruling SDA.
And the authorities in Republika Srpska have not hesitated in
capitalizing on those results, pointing to their rivals' strong
showing as proof of the nationalistic climate in the federation,
the radical agenda of Bosniac and Croat voters and the necessity
of defending the Serb homeland.
It would, by contrast, also deprive
the Sarajevo-based authorities of their claim to be the legitimate
governors of the entire country. The elections will in fact spread
this sovereignty between the three nations and the two entities.
The Bosnian Serbs hope that, by obstructing these new structures,
they can make the sovereignty of a united Bosnia and Herzegovina
disappear altogether, further strengthening their claim to independence.
Though the opposition parties hope to make a better showing in
two years' time, and hope then to facilitate the reintegration
of Bosnia, there is no guarantee either that this election will
take place or that Bosnia will not already be divided.
By padding its Republika Srpska electoral
lists with an additional 240,000 displaced Bosnian Serbs, the
SDS will likely be able to confirm the results of ethnic cleansing
and secure majorities in large territories that once had substantial
Bosniac majorities. Thus, the cleansing of Brcko, Bratunac, Doboj,
Foca, Prijedor, Rogatica, Visegrad, Vlasenica and Zvornik would
be recognized de jure by a vote characterized more by election
engineering than by democracy.
An overwhelming victory for the nationalists
will greatly stall the repatriation of refugees. In the case at
least of the SDS and the HDZ, it must be said that the creation
of refugees was not an incidental by-product of the war; it was
the war's aim.
Of all three parties, the HDZ is the
most secure in its grip on power in the Croat-controlled part
of the Federation. It is less secure in central Bosnia, where
Croats suffer from numeric disadvantages in cleansed towns that
they currently control. Though the SDS is secure overall, it will
face a challenge from the left-center block led by the Milosevic-aligned
Socialist Party of Republika Srpska, and they may lose municipal
seats in the Banja Luka area. Ironically, the fact that Bosniac
and Croat displaced persons are entitled to vote in person or
by absentee ballot in the area in which they lived in 1991 means
that the SDA will fare reasonably well in Republika Srpska, tallying
up to 400,000 votes winning almost surely certain municipalities,
such as Brcko, Srebrenica and Trnovo, but may suffer setbacks
in the Federation. In addition, since more Serbs and Croat refugees
are housed nearby in Yugoslavia and Croatia than Bosniacs, the
unregistered Serb and Croat voters will be more likely to travel
to Bosnia to vote on election day itself than Bosniacs who tend
to be scattered outside the borders of the former Yugoslavia;
the SDA may therefore suffer disproportionately on the Bosniac
part of the Federation. Any of these parties who forecast defeat
may stage a boycott in advance of the election, or try to spoil
it on the day itself so the results be perceived as illegitimate.
In the event of unexpected defeat, they will certainly protest
Any losing party will have the power
to protest defeat by citing such irregularities. The voter registration
process has already brought the election into disrepute. Because
the OSCE has imposed few sanctions on those parties who have blatantly
violated the electoral rules, losing parties will have a well
of ammunition to draw upon after the election for their protests.
Due to the great potential for voter confusion, disenfranchisement,
violence and irregularities on election day (see above), the already-existent
grounds for complaint will only multiply.
Witness Mostar: When the SDA-led coalition
narrowly edged out the HDZ for control of the city council, the
Croats refused to accept the EU ombudsman's decision that, notwithstanding
a slight irregularity (twenty-six extra ballots in one polling
station), the results were final. The west Mostar Croats have
now secured a "compromise" deal with the Bosniacs and
the EU, but the agreement offers no guarantee that the city council
will convene regularly or function properly.
Those who do not like the results of
the elections, the irregularities, or the concept of the institutions
themselves have it in their power to obstruct simply by refusing
to meet. Neither Bosnia nor the international community can withstand
several dozen rounds of late-night negotiations, nor the constant
intervention of U.S. President Clinton, as was required to secure
the Mostar compromise.
2. The international community's
loss of leverage
One of the gravest consequences of holding
the elections concerns the leverage that the international community
will lose. This loss of leverage will take place at precisely
the time when conditions are regressing (see above).
3. The installation of newly-elected
The attachment to Annex 3 on Elections
in the General Framework Agreement reads as follows:
"7) To ensure that the will of
the people serves as the basis of the authority of government,
the participating States will
(7.9) ensure that candidates who obtain
the necessary number of votes required by law are duly installed
in office and are permitted to remain in office until their term
expires or is otherwise brought to an end in a manner that is
regulated by law in conformity with democratic parliamentary and
The UN Security Council on 8 August
stressed the importance of elections "which will allow for
the establishment of the common institutions and which will be
an important milestone for normalization in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
It calls upon the Parties to ensure the prompt functioning of
these institutions after the elections."
"Calling on the parties"-especially
the parties likely to be elected- will do little to expedite the
functioning of the joint institutions. Recent events in Mostar,
where the city council shows few signs of functioning properly,
illustrate this point. The international community has not articulated
any policy-beyond exhortation-to bring about the installation
of the newly-elected officials. For instance, if Bosniac displaced
persons make a strong showing in Republika Srpska, they are far
more likely to become irredentist governments in exile than they
are to take up posts in SDS-dominated Republika Srpska.
This will have severely negative consequences
for stability in Bosnia and will, as a result, necessitate a protracted
In the absence of the conditions for
"free and fair" elections, candidates elected by absentee
ballot to areas from which they were once expelled, will have
great difficulty taking up their seats. This will spawn unrest
in Federation territory among displaced persons (and displaced
elected representatives), and, if these disgruntled groups force
the issue, possible violence in Republika Srpska or "Herzeg-Bosna".
Though opposition politicians hope to overthrow the ruling nationalists
in the next elections, two years is a very long time to wait for
displaced persons whose right to return home has been reaffirmed
in the election. The best-case scenario for these formerly mixed
areas is a tense stalemate like that currently plaguing Mostar.
The elections are not an end in
themselves, but a step in the long process of reconciliation and
democratisation, and an instrument for bringing stability to the
Elections held under the current conditions
may in fact have the opposite effect. Instead of furthering reconciliation,
the elections advance the likelihood of violence -- either when
on election day a large number of voters cross the former confrontation
lines that were hitherto hermetic, or when the time comes to install
newly elected leaders to areas from where they have been cleansed.
Instead of taking a step in the process of democratisation, the
Parties, especially Republika Srpska and "Herzeg-Bosna,"
have manipulated the registration process and additionally suppressed
freedom of expression and association. Thus the run-up to the
elections has exacerbated not reduced instability. When voters
are directed to vote according to the wishes of the ruling political
parties, elections cannot be described as stabilizing.
Postponing the elections will
not improve conditions.
This concern would be justified only
if the international community continues to respond as indecisively
as it has to date to violations of the DPA. However, ICG is proposing
that the international community take resolute actions that would
convince the Parties that certain minimum standards must be met
before elections are put back on reschedule.
By not setting a firm date for
the elections, the international community will heighten political
uncertainty, increase the likelihood of political division, provide
a stimulus to the forces of separation, and cause chaos and uncontrollable
Holding the planned elections on 14
September under the present conditions will produce precisely
these undesirable results - not only will the extreme nationalist
parties be elected, but their hold on power and the territories
they control will be legitimized by the OSCE as well as the international
community and consolidated. The leaders of the SDS and HDZ have
made no secret of their goals -- creating an independent, sovereign
and exclusivist state in the case of the former, and creating
a separate, exclusivist "Herzeg-Bosna" entity in the
case of the latter. Both have also stated that their ultimate
goal is unification with their respective "mother" countries.
Though the status quo without elections may also provide such
a stimulus, holding the elections now, before democratisation
has been given a chance to heal the wounds of war, will only expedite
the partition and remove a major incentive for the ruling parties
to improve conditions: the eventual acquisition of legitimacy.
Thanks to the poll a political
opposition in conjunction with absentee, displaced voters will
have a chance to start the "reconstruction of ethnically-mixed
Because of the manipulations of the
voter registration process in Republika Srpska and "Herzeg-Bosna"
as well as the Bosnian voters living in "mother" countries,
the exact opposite results have been achieved. Since most Bosnian
Serbs displaced from the Federation territories have been forced
to register to vote in Republika Srpska, and many Bosnian Croats
forced to vote in "Herzeg-Bosna", it is not possible
to discuss even symbolic reconstruction of ethnically-mixed communities.
The parties themselves want to
hold the elections.
The ruling parties urgently seek a democratic
stamp and fear that time works against them. The opposition parties,
who have been repeatedly disillusioned in the last four years
by the International community's broken promises and half-hearted
commitments, appreciate the sudden bout of international resolve
to hold elections and fear it may be short-lived. As the date
for the elections approaches, and as conditions deteriorate, a
number of opposition parties are increasingly changing their view
and threatening boycott.
active in Bosnia recommend that elections take place as planned.
These inter-governmental organisations
are without exception subject to the political imperatives of
various governments around the world. When exerting pressure or
giving the green light to proceed with the elections, these governments
were more motivated by domestic political concerns-their own electoral
campaigns necessitate the staging of symbolic, tangible events
that represent tangible achievement in foreign policy. In the
same vein, for those countries that hope to withdraw or reduce
their troop presence in Bosnia, the elections supply a useful
exit benchmark. In fact many nations hold an underlying belief
that partitioning Bosnia would be a simpler solution than the
laborious facilitating of reintegration. This short-sighted partition
approach will only guarantee another round of fighting in Bosnia,
perhaps spawn further conflicts in the region, and, in the long-run,
cost the international community far more than extending IFOR's
mandate for another year, implementing DPA more resolutely, and
holding the elections shortly after the conditions in Bosnia have
Elections should take place while
IFOR is still present in Bosnia, and, since the future of IFOR
cannot be predicted, that means September.
IFOR, like the OSCE, should tie its
presence not to a calendar, but to concrete progress measured
by the implementation of the DPA.
Elections will permit the creation
of the State-level joint institutions foreseen in the DPA.
In the current politically charged environment,
those joint institutions elected are bound to be paralyzed by
the diametrically opposed agendas of the parties, which could
precipitate the demise of Bosnia as a single country. The example
of Mostar is overwhelming argument.
Elections will permit some opposition
parties and leaders to be elected, thus reducing the three ruling
parties' monopolistic grip on power.
This is a compelling argument, especially
in the case of Bosniac-controlled parts of the Federation. However
in Republika Srpska, the strongest challenge to the ruling party
will come from the Socialist Party of Republika Srpska -- which
answers to Serbian President Milosevic and which can hardly be
considered a healthier alternative to SDS, given the responsibility
that Milosevic shoulders for the catastrophic events in former
The preparations for elections
are too far underway to turn back now.
In fact one major reason for postponing
elections is that preparations lag so far behind. Virtually every
one of the OSCE's deadlines was postponed, and even still, huge
logistic hurdles will have to be scaled in the next month to ensure
the elections will be able to go forth. If they do, thanks in
part to the chaos inherent in an election of this scale and novelty
(in a country where even the main towns have no constant power
supply), in part to the enormous number of displaced and refugee
voters, and in part to the OSCE's slow start, voter registration
figures are so low that huge numbers of Bosnian citizens will
likely be disenfranchised.
The Bosnian elections are planned for
September 14 because, the Dayton Peace Agreement's sponsors and
signatories stipulated that the poll should be held within nine
months. That they also required that certain preconditions be
met has been largely forgotten or ignored. Any claim by international
organisations or western governments that elections are proceeding
because Dayton's preconditions have been fulfilled represents
an attempt to rationalize the decision made in Dayton or, more
recently, in Western capitals. The decision to certify the elections
is driven by the calendar, not by the climate on the ground.
ICG believes that this is a flawed approach.
The stakes for the region and the consequences for the people
of Bosnia and Herzegovina of holding elections are too high for
a stone-fixed date to dictate their fates. Instead of rushing
the elections, so as to have them completed within nine months
of Dayton, the elections should proceed only when the bare minimum
preconditions have in fact been met. ICG is not therefore recommending
anything new; it believes, simply, that the OSCE should heed
the spirit-and indeed the letter-of the Dayton Peace Agreement.
ICG recommends a postponement
of the elections. It recommends that the elections be held when
the bare minimum preconditions have been met. Progress should
be measured not with the calendar but with the concrete implementation
of Dayton's civilian side.
One of the DPA's known defects was that,
while the concrete military aspects of the agreement had to be
performed before the expiration of firm deadlines, the civilian
provisions were left vague and difficult to measure. Though the
DPA outlined the conditions needed to hold elections, and though
they were elaborated upon by the OSCE, no benchmarks were made
publicly available for judging when or whether the conditions
had been fulfilled. As it happens, civilian implementation has
stalled so manifestly that it is impossible to argue that the
twelve OSCE preconditions have been met. But ICG proposes the
establishment of thresholds that must be crossed in civilian implementation
before elections are held.
must not simply be marginalised or shielded from view; they must
be sent to the Hague. The international community can accomplish
this either by arresting those criminals whose whereabouts are
known, or if IFOR continues to refuse doing that, by forcing Croatian
President Franjo Tudjman and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic
to hand them over. Diplomatic and economic pressure should be
exerted to such an extent that it becomes impossible for local
leaders to shelter or resist arresting those indictees who fall
within their spheres of influence. Out of all the civilian provisions
of the DPA, this is the one that is most easily measured. Priority
should be placed initially on the most prominent accused war criminals
- Radovan Karadzic, Dario Kordic and Ratko Mladic. Postponing
the elections will remove the current excuse for not apprehending
the indictees -- that doing so would increase, not decrease, support
for the nationalists just before the elections.
perhaps the most difficult of all conditions to meet, must have
really begun before elections proceed. This is strongly-but not
exclusively-linked to the other preconditions. The net return
total-currently 20,000 at most, and the bulk of them to ethnic
majority areas-must improve before citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina
are called upon to decide their fate. The benchmark for this will
not be the number of returnees, but the establishment of relatively
secure conditions that enable at least the start of reintegration
and more substantial repatriation. This must include steps toward
the creation of economic as well as physical security, at minimum
meaning that the discriminatory property laws in both entities
must be repealed, and amnesty laws brought into compliance with
Freedom of Movement must
be created. An amorphous and difficult precondition, ICG proposes
the following criteria for fulfillment: when group and individual
visits are possible between one entity and another, when candidates
can cross the IEBL and campaign without fear of intimidation in
the other entity, when phone links are established between the
two entities, and when IFOR checkpoints are no longer required
along the IEBL.
Freedom of Expression
and Media must be established. Opposition politicians,
not to mention ordinary citizens, must not be gagged. Throughout
Bosnia, opposition parties must be free to campaign without fear
of harassment or intimidation. After four years of one-party,
often-repressive rule, nine months is an inadequate period of
time for any semblance of a pluralistic spirit to take hold. Elections
should not take place before opposition parties of all stripes
are given a fair chance. Freedom of the media, especially in the
Republika Srpska and in Croat-controlled part of the Federation
leaves much to be desired. In Republika Srpska, the ninety minutes
air-time granted to the opposition must supply them with a proper
outlet; the election program must cease to be the scene for state-sponsored
ridicule and slander and must not be "moderated" by
members of the ruling party. The Swiss-financed alternative radio
station must be publicized so that potential listeners are made
aware of its frequency. Most crucially, the alternative television
network, TV-IN (known as "Bildt-TV"), which will be
lucky to be functioning before 14 September, must be given time
to gain credibility and viewership. ICG estimates that a minimum
of three months of normal operation will be required in order
for TV-IN to have had any chance to open the minds of viewers.
After four years of war, it is
clear that the Parties will not satisfy the conditions spelled
out in Dayton anytime soon. It is also inevitable that, at some
point, the Parties and the international community will have to
settle for less than ideal conditions for elections. Nonetheless,
ICG believes that the current conditions are not acceptable, and
the international community has great power at its behest that
it is not using to capacity. The elections should take place when
the Parties are approaching compliance, not when they are moving
away from it.
Elections are not a panacea. They
can serve a useful purpose if they represent a meaningful expression
of popular sentiment. Elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina, if
they are held on 14 September, will not accomplish this end. Instead,
they will speed the path to partition and deprive western States
of invaluable leverage.