Report from an Observation Mission to the Elections held in Bosnia and Herzegovina on November 11th 2000
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee has followed elections throughout Post-Communist
Europe for a decade. With one exception, the Committee has observed every election in Bosnia and Herzegovina since 1991,. The observation of the November 2000 elections is thus part of a long-term commitment towards the country and the region. Having this in mind we have attempted to give an evaluation of the elections in light of official rules as well as its wider context.
Voting and counting
The delegation observed voting and counting in Stolac Municipality, in which elections took place for the Houses of representatives of BiH, and the Federation of BiH respectively, as well as the elections for the Cantonal Assembly of Canton 7. The delegation did not observe any voting or counting regarding the elections for the Presidency and Vice-presidency of Republika Srpska, nor the elections for the House of Representatives of the Republika Srpska, nor the elections for the Municipal Assembly of Srebrenica which all also took place on the same day.
Violations of campaign silence
According to Article 705 of the Rules and Regulations (RR) of the Provisional Election Commission (PEC) there is a campaign silence starting 24 hours before the elections during which political parties and candidates are prohibited from campaign activities. At the eve of the campaign nationalist Croat parties, mainly HDZ, launched an initiative for a so-called referendum to be held on election day in Croat controlled areas. The subject of the so-called referendum was not independence or irredentism. Although the general public must have perceived the subject as just that given the political agendas of the parties involved. Throughout the areas dominated by Croats in Western Herzegovina "referendum stations" opened in parallel to the Polling Stations. Local observers confirmed that exclusively representatives of HDZ staffed the "referendum stations". In Stolac, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee identified three "referendum stations", the one closest to a polling station was found about 200 meters away. Posters informing voters which "referendum station" to "vote" in were found in town. While there were queues in front of the Polling Stations, the few "referendum stations" were mostly empty. Regardless of the number of people taking part in it, the "referendum" constitutes a violation of RR, and it can only be seen as an act of defiance against the international community and international standards of democracy. Moreover it once again brought nationalism to the top of the political agenda.
Polling stations observed opened on time and were generally organised in accordance with RR. Stations had the correct material in sufficient amounts. The quality of the Voter’s register seems to have improved as our impression was that fewer people were turned away for not appearing on the lists, as compared to former elections. The delegation visited ten stations and found that one station did not have a wall with the whole covered only by plastic, whereas two stations were too small for polling. At least four stations had insufficient lighting. The 2000 elections have seen the introduction of the "open list system" which allows voters to give preference to individual candidates within parties. With a considerable number of parties and some 20-40 candidates within each party, the ballots become rather complex, indeed too complex to many voters. As compared to former elections we observed a higher rate of voters seeking assistance from others, and a higher rate of family voting than we have observed in past elections. We assume that the complexity of the ballot may account for asserted increase. In one of the ten stations we found that the Polling Station Committee was unsuccessful in ensuring the secrecy of the vote. Voters were assisted by members of the Polling Station Committee in marking the ballot, in some instances the PSC members went behind the booths to offer help without prior requests of help from voters. In essence some 10-20% of voters preferences were not secret in that station during the one hour observed. The counting observed was well organised and was carried out in compliance with RR.
Some 290 international observers from the NGO- and diplomatic communities plus 40 parliamentarians from the Council of Europe observed the elections. In addition to the ordinary observers from political parties, two coalitions of independent observers followed the elections countrywide -the Centre for Civic Initiatives and the NGO-coalition called "IZBORI 2000" (elections 2000) took part. Many domestic observers entered their task with motivation and skill whereas others were not well informed on the Rules and Regulations and
international standards of free and fair elections.
The elections were once again overseen by the Provisional Election Commission of the OSCE’s mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, in which members of the International Community has the dominant voice. The Municipal Election Committees and Polling Station Committees were of course entirely domestic, but about 760 international supervisors supplemented them. Based on our observation of the elections, most Polling Station Committees function well even without Supervisors.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country were the politics of the 1991-1995 war are highly relevant and institutionalised. The dominant nationalist political parties in power during the war, namely HDZ, SDA and SDS, are still in political control. A great number of the present political leaders are responsible for crimes and atrocities committed during the war. The recovery of the economy is very slow whereas there is a steady flow of foreign aid. Corruption is widespread and political control is key to economic control and self-enrichment as well as party-enrichment.
In an independent poll published by the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina 79% of voters identified "jobs and economic development" as the most important issue, corruption was identified as the second most important issue for the office-holders to be elected. However, the political parties concentrated their energies mostly towards slandering of other parties, as opposed to promotion of their own platforms. For instance, journalist in Brcko covering the elections informed us that in their experience, most politicians were unwilling to discuss, even present, the programmes of their own parties.
In stead the nationalist parties resorted to the indirect demagogy of war by once again raising the level of ethnic tension to invoke the images of enemies and guards of national interests. The demonstrations of students and pupils against multi-ethnic education institutions in Brcko orchestrated by the nationalist parties are the most striking examples of this tactics. Forced evictions and all kinds of incidents may be used to raise the ethnic tension. In the Mostar area the HDZ had huge posters saying simply "Opredjeljenje ili istrebljenje" which may be translated "united or exterminated" printed on the background of the Croat national symbol. The Electoral Appeals Sub-Commission banned the posters and ordered HDZ to remove them. In reply HDZ only covered the posters with transparent paper, leaving the posters easily read by anyone even on election day. Radovan Karadzic and a number of other indicted war criminals remain at large.
The conflict engineering of the nationalist parties is of course reducing the effect of the efforts of the international community to return refugees, integrate economic structures, create a climate where large-scale investment is conceivable, and where human rights are respected and upheld.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee urges
- the international community, in particular the authorities that contribute troops to SFOR, to use the means necessary to apprehend all indicted war criminals.
- the Office of the High Representative, presently led by Mr Wolfgang Petrisch, to uphold international standards of human rights through tough sanctions against non-compliance
- the international community to fully support the territorial and political solutions laid down in the Dayton Agreement and international standards of human rights as well as the efforts of the High Representative to ensure compliance with these principles
- well-organised political parties in other countries to identify and help non-nationalist political parties or "parties-in-embryo" to develop skills in grass-root organisation, structure and organisation of political parties, policy formulation and policy articulation
- governments, international agencies and organisations involved in Bosnia and Herzegovina to realise that the problems generated by the war are still as much in place as are the politicians that took part in creating them. The efforts of the international community are needed more than ever.
This report is authored by Ole B Lilleås on behalf of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee