Strasbourg, 3 November 1998
Observation of Regional and Local Elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina (12-13 September 1998)
Adopted by the Standing Committee on 3 November 1998
Members of the Congress delegation:
Mr MARTINI (Italy), Mr GUERTS (Belgium), Mr FRIEDRICH (France), Mr RIVOLLIER (France), Ms MOLFETTA (Italy), Mr VOLEK (Slovakia), Ms KYLLER (Sweden), Mr HAEGI (Switzerland), Mr BULDANLI (Turkey), Mr MORGAN (United Kingdom)
Mr CHÉNARD, President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE) received an invitation on behalf of the CLRAE from Mr CAMPARA, the Vice-President of the House of People of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Parliament, to appoint members of the CLRAE to observe the elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) scheduled for 12 and 13 September 1998. CLRAE members had already observed Cantonal elections on 14 September 1996 and Local elections on 13-14 September 1997 in BiH. Moreover, the Bureau of the CLRAE has decided to prepare a report assessing regional and local democracy in this country, considering the procedure for accession of BiH to the Council of Europe, which has already been initiated. The Rapporteurs, appointed at the meeting of the three Presidents held on 11 August 1998 are: Mr Claude HAEGI (Switzerland) and Mr Gianfranco MARTINI (Italy).
In the 1998 elections,
a)the citizens of BiH voted for:
the Presidency of BiH,
the House of Representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly;
b)the citizens of the Federation of BiH1 voted for:
the House of Representatives of the Parliament,
the cantonal assemblies,
the ten newly-established municipal councils and municipal assemblies2;
c)the citizens of Republika Srpska (RS) voted for:
the President and Vice President,
the National Assembly,
the two-newly established municipal councils and municipal assemblies
All of them were to be elected by system of proportional representation, except for the members of BiH Presidency, who were to be elected by a single direct ballot.
New municipal elections are planned for 1999.
The CLRAE observer delegation was deployed in six teams as follows:
-BIHAČ: Mr BULDANLI (Turkey) and Ms MOLFETTA (Italy)
-BRČKO: Mr MORGAN (United Kingdom) and Ms DIMITRIEVA-NAJDANOVA (CLRAE Secretariat)
-MOSTAR: Mr VOLEK (Slovakia) and Mr FRIEDRICH (France)
-LIVNO: Ms KYLLER (Sweden) and Mr RIVOLLIER (France)
-SARAJEVO: Mr HAEGI (Switzerland), Mr MUDRICH (CLRAE Secretariat) and MR GUERTS (Belgium)
-BANJA LUKA: Mr MARTINI (Italy) and Mr PELLICCIARI (Italy)
They observed elections in around 130 polling stations in the most sensitive areas in both entities.
In addition, the Rapporteurs had the opportunity to meet the main stakeholders both in the Federation and the RS (see attached agenda), as well as the members of the international community in BiH. This helped them to gain a clear picture of the current situation in this country.
Unlike the 1996 and 1997 elections, which were held in a politically tense environment, these elections were organised in a slightly different atmosphere. First of all, peace was declared more than 2 years ago. In the meantime, more moderate parties have been created, which favour dialogue over violence. A new national flag of BiH has been approved and the national anthem is under discussion. Members of the delegation were able to use new Bosniak marks in both entities, which are 1:1 to DEM3. Common car plates have been introduced for both entities. Nevertheless, people could still see whether the car owner came from the Federation or from RS, as Bosniaks would put a BiH sticker on their car (making clear that they were from Bosnia and Herzegovina), and a Serb would not. Telecommunications between the two entities are working better, but it proved impossible to make a telephone call from RS (from some places or at certain hours) to the Federation.
It seems that the formal conditions are more or less in place to enable free circulation of people, capital and information between the two entities as set forth by the Dayton agreement, but only with active international involvement. However, the everyday practice is somewhat different. This can be seen from the slow return and re-integration of refugees and displaced persons to their pre-war places of residence. A large number of incidents and fear reduce confidence between the different ethnic communities. Hopefully, in time, this confidence will be restored.
The international community has put a lot of effort into re-building houses and re-constructing BiH. This presence of the international community is not only beneficial for the peace process itself, but also for the economy, as it helps to reduce the high unemployment rate in both entities, to create confidence and a better life for the future.
Many new bodies have been established jointly between the two entities, i.e. the new Commission for Legal Co-operation and the Independent Media Commission, with the participation of international representatives to help the process of “Bosniasation” as it was called by the OSCE representative, as opposed to the process of Balkanisation. However, it is clear that the international community will have to stay much longer in BiH before the institutions of this country will be able to function on their own.
Something which is quite striking is the number of newly built churches and mosques in orthodox or muslim areas. Our driver remarked that it would be much better to build schools or other public buildings as, in this area, every religious construction always entails a bit of provocation for the other side. Another interesting thing to note were the icons and Serbian coat of arms in the Brcko area, hanging up in all schools where the photo of Tito used to hang. The unresolved status of Brcko surely contributes to this; the decision of the respective arbitration is expected in March 1999.
The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) was responsible for organising the elections and for the provision of accommodation4, interpreters, transportation and information for the Short Term Observers (STO). Generally speaking, everything went well from the logistical point of view, despite some problems which were encountered in respect of accommodation, due to the fact that the CLRAE delegation was taken for the CoE Parliamentary Assembly delegation with a different arrangement.
Both the briefing on 11 September and the de-briefing on 15 September were well organised and the STOs received all the necessary information concerning the political climate in the country and their personal safety. The de-briefing session allowed for an exchange of experiences between the international observers. A press conference was followed by a Statement of the European Parliament, the OSCE and the CoE Parliamentary Assembly (see appendix A). The CLRAE delegation published a separate press release (see appendix B).
1. Political parties
An electoral surprise was the appearance of a new Bosniak Croat party –New Croatian Initiative-in the political arena. This party, led by Mr Zubak, the currant president of BiH, created expectations among the international community and citizens of the Federation. However, as we were informed by Mr JENNES, Special Deputy-Head of the OSCE mission, according to preliminary results, this party gained only around 4% of the votes.
1998 Rules and Regulations
The voters were expected to cast their votes in person or by absentee5 ballot for the municipality in which they had a place of residence in 1991. They could also apply to vote in a different municipality, if they intended to live there.
Changes introduced to the 1998 Rules and Regulations include a requirement for the political parties' candidates to disclose information about their property and for the political parties to include women candidates. This made the elections look more “civic” and forced parties to focus on a genuine political programme.
Article 7.10 of PEC6 Rules and Regulations made it clear that no person who is serving a sentence imposed by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and no person who is under indictment by the Tribunal or has failed to comply with an order to appear before the Tribunal may stand as a candidate.
At the briefing we learned that, during the pre-electoral period, violations of rules were noticed, including intimidation of voters by certain political parties. Consequently, some of their candidates were struck from the list in accordance with the 1998 Elections Rules and Procedures.
The creation of a Media Experts Commission7 and the suppression of nationalist media stations helped overcome the existence of a biased media, which was a major problem during the previous elections.
The display of political party posters on the walls of and inside the polling stations and municipal buildings were a normal sight on the eve of the elections, including on the building of the Local Electoral Commission in Brcko. We discovered that these posters were used by local inhabitants to help indicate the place where they were supposed to cast their votes. However, most of this kind of campaign material disappeared on election day.
The overall impression from the elections was that they passed smoothly and calmly. The conditions of elections were normal and satisfactory, taking into consideration the complexity of the voting procedure and the political situation in BiH. Everybody could pass the line to vote in the other entity, without any incidents. Improvements were made compared with last year's elections by preparing registers in alphabetical order; all the polling stations had a water and electricity supply, although some of them were very small and situated in half-ruined houses.
The voters, supervisors and members of polling committees were, in general, well trained, well informed and followed the prescribed procedure, strictly. Only one absentee polling station in a remote area of RS, on the day before the elections, the committee had no clue that they were the absentee polling station and required instructions from us. However, the next day, everything went well. The high turnout of voters (around 80% in the Federation and 70% in RS) showed that the people were not tired of the elections and had confidence in the election results. Voters arrived early in the morning and waited patiently for a couple of hours before casting their votes, due to the late opening of some polling stations.
As in previous years, the ODIHR/OSCE had outstanding problems with the computer equipment, as a result of which the voters' registers were not prepared and delivered in time to all polling stations. Some polling stations (Bihac area) never received a voters' register, so all the voters had to cast tendered ballots, a procedure in which and rightly so - they did not place much confidence.
The biggest problems were caused by the fact that the absentee voters' registers was not prepared and delivered in time. Consequently, all the voters who might have passed for the first time the Inter Entity Line were waiting for hours to cast their votes, as some of the polling stations opened as late as 2.00pm. One incident was noticed in Srebrenica, where voters, after some hours of waiting, concluded that they were being manipulated and became very agitated. In the end, SFOR had to come and calm them down. Another incident occurred in Banja Luka, where displaced persons from Drvar were waiting for hours to cast their votes. Unfortunately, a high number of tendered, absentee and out-of-country voting by-mail ballots8 (10-15%) diminished the confidence of the voters, as it could considerably affect the results of the elections.
In some cases, there was a discrepancy between the voters' information as to where s/he was supposed to vote and voters' registers. Therefore, some of the voters were going from one polling station to another, trying to find their name on the list.
In other cases, the polling place would change and voters would not be informed in time, so they would also end up trying to find the right polling station to cast their votes.
There was a large number of illiterate voters, who required assistance from members of their families to fill the ballot papers, in accordance with Article 13.30 of the 1998 Rules and Regulations.
The ballot papers were very complicated. In fact, four ballots were printed on one large sheet of paper, difficult to read for elderly persons. We could not help but feel that it would have been much easier to have separate ballots in different colours, instead of having the polling station commission carefully tearing down the ballot papers after the elections, in order not to destroy them. This contributed to at least one hour of time wasted in a long and strict counting procedure.
In the future, it might be recommendable to also have political parties' signs to make it easier for the voters to recognise the party for which they want to vote. In addition, the absentee ballot paper with Serbian parties written in Cyrillic and Federation parties in Latin, was in itself proof of the deep gap still existing between these communities.
In addition, in some cases, the wrong ballot papers were sent to by-mail voters who saw this as a kind of provocation.
This concept, introduced by Article 7.135 of the 1998 Rules and Regulations, provided that two or more registered political parties, coalitions or independent candidates with similar programmes may choose to group themselves in a voting alliance for purpose of counting their valid votes together and the distribution of mandates between them will be based upon the number of valid votes received by each alliance member. However, it posed problems not only for voters, but for the political parties forming the alliance and for international observers. The OSCE representatives informed us that it might not be applied at the next elections.
The presence of local police was noticed in some polling stations in RS. They left when they were told that their presence was not permitted.
In one polling station a radical party political observer was actively agitating in favour of his party. The supervisor called the police to remove him from the polling station.
There was a noticeable drop of cases were families entered the voting booths together.
-The overall impression was that the real challenge for the 1998 elections was not the electoral process itself, but the actual implementation of the election results and the creation of incentives for the proper functioning of institutions at all levels of government. This might prove difficult if the official election results confirm the fear that the nationalist parties won the elections.
-In respect of the elections themselves, most of the international observers shared the opinion that the elections were very expensive and that there was no way that BiH could finance them alone not due to a lack of training, but due to a lack of money. BiH, according to the Dayton agreement, is a complex state; however, if Dayton were to be revised for its institutional aspects, this would initiate its revision on other issues, such as the creation of a third entity, etc. Therefore, it seems impossible to revise the Dayton agreement before the country reaches political stability.
-The problem of refugees and displaced persons remains crucial one for the future of the country. The principle rule of the place of voting according to the 1998 Rules and Regulation was the place of residence of voters in 1991, in order not to allow the separation of the country into ghettos. The Federation changed their restrictive law in respect of return of refugees and displaced persons, but this has yet to be done by the RS. In any case, it was observed that most of the people we met were in favour of returning to their previous homes, but still hesitating to do so due to fear and difficulties to be encountered if they were to be in the minority9. Consequently, minority rights have to be strengthened and fully implemented.
-The real impetus for the unity and political stability of the country should be created from the level of self-government which is closest to the citizens i.e. the local level. It is therefore necessary to create conditions for local self-government to start functioning in the mixed population areas. The starting point might be Sarajevo, where before the war there were 49% Muslims, 30% Serbs, 15% Yugoslavs and 6% others. At present it is mostly populated by Bosniaks. The rate of repatriation of refugees and displaced persons in Sarajevo might be increased, if the representatives of the city of Sarajevo were elected directly and not only delegated and if the city had genuine competencies and financial autonomy instead of being largely dominated by the Canton of Sarajevo.
-As for the other mixed municipalities, it seems that there are many problems with the functioning of their elected bodies. For example: refugees and displaced persons might vote for and elect their representatives, but never come back to live in their previous place of residence. Their local representatives are intimidated as a result and afraid to come back to live in the place where they were elected (Ex.: Foca). Another case is Srebrenica where the local council never started functioning. Another impediment to functioning of local democracy bodies is the rule included in Cantonal constitutions stating that the members of municipal councils shall elect their head of municipality. This creates difficulties for multi-ethnic municipalities where it is very hard for the members to reach consensus to elect their executive. It might prove easier to change this provision so as to allow the heads of municipal councils to be directly elected by the voters. If municipal councils start functioning properly, they might run specific programmes for the return of refugees and displaced persons, as they are in charge of housing, cultural life, sport etc.1 Hereinafter referred to as the Federation.
2 i.e.,: Domaljevac-Samac, Doboj East, Doboj South, Pale (Cantone 5), Ravno, Kostajnica, Teocak, Dobretici, Sapna, Foca (Cantone 5), Usora and Bosanski Novi.
3 In RS Serbian currency is still in circulation.
4 For the CLRAE delegation, the ODIHR provided only accommodation outside Sarajevo.
5 Special absentee polling stations were arranged for voters who could not return to vote in municipalities in which they used to reside in 1991.
6 Provisional Electoral Commission.
7 1998 Rules and Regulations.
8 Article 2.66 of the 1998 Rules and Regulations.
9 It seemed that the percentage of displaced Bosniaks wanting to return to their previous homes in the RS was somewhat higher compared to the percentage of displaced Serbs wanting to return to their homes in the Federation. The large number of people voting by absentee ballots in the RS was a proof of this.