Statement on Municipal Elections
ICG Bosnia Project, September 15, 1997
Deals struck in smoke-filled rooms to 'save' this weekends poll may have compromised the integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina's first post-war municipal election. Unless the elections supervisory body can provide a full and transparent explanation of all these eleventh-hour agreements, the elections must be considered flawed.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) therefore demands that the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) publish full details of all concessions made to the ruling nationalist parties to secure their participation in the elections. It also urges the OSCE to address the following matters with urgency.
- In Brcko, a key municipality where close to 15 percent of Serb voter registration applications proved fraudulent, the total number of voters registered is still not determined. While the OSCE was attempting to convince the SDS leaders in Pale to call off their boycott of the elections, an "error" discovered by OSCE staff a few days before the poll increased the total registration there by some 2,600 voters. Also in Brcko, on the first day of the voting, a deal was struck to process locally the disputed ("tendered") ballots cast in that municipality, rather than in Sarajevo as stipulated for the rest of the country. More than 3,200 voters who were not eligible to register in Brcko were reported to be casting such "tendered" ballots. The OSCE must fully explain the "error", it must urgently clarify the total number of registered voters, it must process the Brcko "tendered" ballots in Sarajevo under the same close scrutiny as all other such ballots, and any last minute agreements reached in Brcko must be explained to the Bosnian voters. In addition, overall audit procedures for the registration process must be explained to reassure the electorate that similar "errors" could not have occurred elsewhere.
- In some municipalities contested by parties representing different ethnic groups - such as Drvar, Zepce, Brcko, Srebrenica, and Doboj - local election commissions made up of the current dominant ethnic group may have tipped the balance in their favour through a "go-slow" tactic and other fraud, thus preventing "cleansed" voters, now in exile, from gaining a foothold in the future municipal councils. Such tactics on the first day may have discouraged exiled voters from showing up on the second day. These incidents must be investigated fully and transparently, the parties responsible determined and appropriate penalties assessed.
- On the first day of election, the OSCE gave in to pressure from the hardline SDS leadership in Pale and the Chairman of the Provisional Elections Committee PEC (Ambassador Frowick) reinstated two leading SDS candidates (in Prijedor and Bosanski Brod) who were disqualified by its own Election Appeals Sub-Commission (EASC) in May for fraud committed during voter registration. In its justification for this action, the OSCE added insult to injury and seriously damaged the credibility of the EASC by announcing: (i) that the EASC "is not a judicial body" nor is it "a legal body", (ii) that the EASC decisions can be overruled by the PEC, and (iii) that "this was the best way to proceed". Yet, the election rules state clearly (i) that the EASC is indeed a "juridical body" (Art. 137), (ii) that its decisions are "binding and may not be appealed" (Art. 142), and (iii) that the Chairman of the PEC may cast a decisive vote only when there is a dispute in the PEC and within the limits of the PEC rules and regulations (DPA, Annex 3, Art. III). The EASC decisions in the case of the two reinstated candidates must stand and the decision to reinstate them must be reversed. If the PEC can violate its own rules for the sake of political expediency, what example does the international community give to the Bosnian people and what will be the value of any rules, regulations or indeed the rule of law itself?
- On the eve of the elections, the SDS provided yet another blatant evidence that Radovan Karadzic, indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity, continues to lead the party. SDS campaign propaganda prominently featuring the picture of Karadzic were displayed in great numbers in Pale, Srebrenica, Bratunac, Sokolac and elsewhere in Republika Srpska. This is a significant violation of to the OSCEs election rules which state that: "[any political party] that maintains such a person in a party position or function, shall be deemed ineligible to participate in the elections." (PEC R&R; Art. 46.b) Sanctions must be urgently assessed against the SDS for this flagrant violation before the results are certified in municipalities where indicted war crimes suspects are harboured. The disqualification of SDS candidates lists in municipalities where these violations took place must be considered. This defiant attitude by the SDS should also serve notice to the international community that the time has long passed for the arrest by all means necessary of all indicted by The Hague Tribunal.
ICG teams travelled throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina over the weekend to make an independent assessment of the vote. They found that in most areas OSCE supervision and massive SFOR and IPTF deployment provided citizens an opportunity to cast ballots in safety. Violence was limited to a handful of contested municipalities and did not have an impact on the outcome.
However, the absence of major incidents on polling days should not be the only criterion to measure the success of these elections. The vote itself was but the easiest element of what is an extremely complex and difficult electoral process extending from voter registration to the installation of municipal councils.
In a 24-page report entitled Beyond Ballot Boxes: Municipal Elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina published last week, ICG warned that the nationalist parties were "threatening the OSCE with a boycott in an attempt to extract concessions and bend the results in their favour". Unless the last minute deals are explained and/or reversed, the ruling parties will reach the inevitable conclusion that threats against the OSCE can bear fruit.
The report also found that the elections had "little to do with democracy" and that the results were "predictable and reflect a flawed electoral system". Moreover, it concluded that the success of the elections will ultimately depend upon the international community's commitment to implement the results, especially in municipalities in which "governments-in-exile" are elected.
The ICG report pointed out that the fundamental flaw in the existing electoral system is that candidates need only seek votes from one ethnic group to win office and that this leads to a vicious cycle of fear and insecurity. ICG proposed that the electoral system be redesigned before the 1998 elections to generate different results and help restore trust between the peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Sarajevo, 15 September 1997
For further information, contact ICG in Sarajevo (Tel: 447 845).