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Elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina were competitive but concerns remained over failed reforms and divisive rhetoric, international observers say

Stefan Schennach (Austria, SOC)

The general elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina were competitive and overall well organised with fundamental freedoms respected during the campaign. However, failed reform efforts, a widespread mistrust in public institutions, and ethnically divisive rhetoric continued to mark the election environment, international observers said in a statement today.

The joint observation mission from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA), the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATO PA), and the European Parliament (EP) found that the legal framework forms an adequate basis for holding democratic elections.

The elections took place against the backdrop of ongoing political deadlock and widespread disillusionment with the political establishment, with some key institutions blocked. The largest parties in power have frequently used ethnically divisive rhetoric as the standard form of debate. The campaign was calm overall, but observers noted incidents of pressure on public sector employees. The process on election day itself was largely peaceful, although there were some disruptive incidents in and around polling stations. While voting procedures were observed to be generally followed, the secrecy of the vote was often compromised, and there were also cases of unauthorized people keeping track of voters and assisting multiple voters. Observers assessed the counting procedures negatively in numerous places, mainly due to procedural irregularities.

“Serious efforts to manage this electoral process successfully need to be accompanied by similar efforts to solve the continued political deadlock which keeps undermining real democratic development here,” said Pascal Allizard, Special Co-ordinator and leader of the OSCE short-term observers. “Overall disillusionment towards the political establishment is evident, but I have noticed efforts of a few forward-looking candidates to ignite political and socioeconomic change in the country, which is a positive trend I encourage the newly elected representatives to develop.”

Restrictions on the right to become a candidate based on ethnicity and residency go against both the principle of universal and equal suffrage and international standards for democratic elections. Rulings by both the European Court of Human Rights and the state constitutional court against the discriminatory nature of these limitations remain unimplemented.

“Now that the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina have voted, the politicians and political parties should see this as a mandate to work for the future of their country and the perspective of European integration,” said Stefan Schennach, Head of the PACE delegation. “It is particularly important to give the younger generation of voters the sense that their future lies within their own country. For this, it is vital to bridge the gaps between different ethnic groups. It should be sufficient for each citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina to identify themselves as such without any further specification being necessary.”