How did OSCE impose its failed electoral law

Temporary election rules for the (dis)integration of B&H


TUE, 27 JUN 2000

Sarajevo, May 4, 2000 - Less than a month before the expiry of the deadline for the registration of political parties for November parliamentary elections in B&H, a significant number of parties have announced that they were seriously considering the possibility of boycotting of elections! The reason: imposition of Temporary Election Rules in which, on its own initiative, OSCE had incorporated most of the provisions which is why their Electoral Law did not pass in B&H Parliament last winter.

Actually, Temporary Election Commission (PIK) of the OSCE Missions in B&H modified the Temporary Rules and Regulations (PPiP) which, in the absence of a permanent electoral law, should serve as a basis for holding general elections on the level of the entire B&H. However, this was done without any prior consultations or discussions with political parties' representatives, which recently labelled the OSCE and OHR proposal of the electoral law (especially the reform block and alternative parties)as undemocratic, segregational, unconstitutional, and even nationalistic. This time, OSCE did not give representatives of local political options or non-governmental sector a chance to state their opinion on electoral rules, but, after finishing the job simply invited and "informed them of the changes".

This information, at least for parties which prefer to remain Bosnian & Herzegovinian and multi-ethnic, was crushing - the PPiP includes practically all provisions from the draft permanent electoral law which was prepared by the OSCE Working Group and which delegates to the state parliament had refused to adopt.

The basic objections of representatives of political parties were that some amendments were unconstitutional while others confirmed the war-established national divisions and thereby pushed B&H even further away from any eventual reintegration!

The majority of objections to new electoral rules were raised in connection with the infamous "multi-member electoral units". In contrast to earlier election processes in B&H for state Parliament when, for example, the entire B&H was one electoral unit, it is now divided into 8 electoral units!? Additional confusion was created by unexplained method according to which OSCE and PIK have divided the country, i.e. it was unclear how did they determine which territories would form an electoral unit. The first man of OSCE and PIK, Ambassador Robert Barry tried to give an explanation of elements which OSCE had in mind when preparing such elections, but did not succeed because, apart from demagogically referring to "importance", "democratisation" and alleged "European standards" for B&H, he could offer nothing new: "The adoption of these elements represents an important step towards democratic reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Both international and national experts are certain that these reforms will promote the accountability and efficiency of government", said Barry explaining that all newly adopted provisions were fully in line with the European and international standards and that the system of multi-member electoral units would specify geographic regions for the election of delegates to the House of Representatives of B&H, House of Representatives of the B&H Federation and the National Assembly of the Republic of Srpska.

"This system allows citizens to establish direct links with candidates representing their electoral unit and increase the responsibility between voters and candidates. The system also stimulates elected representatives to behave more responsibly towards the needs of their voters", claimed Ambassador Barry.

However, representatives of political parties which opposed such a solution, claim that "multi-member electoral units", as imagined by OSCE, were contrary to what the international community wanted to achieve in B&H. According to the opposition, especially SDP, fragmented electoral units, as practically nationally cleansed territories, would localise even more the delegates to the state parliament who, instead of being accountable to all citizens of B&H, would stick to a narrow circle of their local compatriots, naturally of a suitable nationality. In other words, a member of the state Parliament would have his electoral base as local authorities in his "own village", so that his political guidelines and responsibilities could be expected to be suited to the interests of that community and not of all B&H citizens, as envisaged by the Madrid Declaration for B&H. The division of vital interests into allegedly Serbian, Croatian or Bosniac has brought B&H where it is now, so that a justified question is raised what would it be like to have a parliament in which the highest representative of the state, i.e. a delegate, would represent only the interests of, let's say, Bosniacs, but Bosniacs from Bihac, or Bosniacs from his party.

After that comes a division on the entity level and then on the cantonal. It is hardly likely that this electoral method would bring anything good from the new generation of politicians who are supposed to work in the interest of all citizens of B&H, i.e. to be responsible to members of all three majority nations in the country - which international representatives in B&H constantly swear by and invoke. Or, does any Serb from the B&H Federation have a chance to get into the Parliament of this entity or, for that matter, a Bosniac into the RS Parliament, especially if the current and not the pre-war place of residence is taken into consideration in this round of voting? Who will be a candidate of other nationality in cleansed local communities all over B&H (and who will vote for him) if it is known that only in larger towns there are some politicians of minority nations, exclusively SDP members? But, since a number of delegates from Sarajevo, as well as from other places, to the state Parliament is limited, it is clear that only the former will "pass", and as a rule, will suit the ethnic structure of such towns.

On the other hand, OSCE claims that a number of compensatory mandates will reduce the effect that could be caused by the division of B&H territories into a greater number of electoral units. Namely, a number of mandates in Parliaments, about 25 percent, would be compensating ones - votes that political parties win in special electoral units will be added up and then a political party with the "best" final score will get one or more such mandates for candidates from the electoral unit in which the party in question scores the best results!

However, for the political parties critical of this method (which, needles to say, do not include, for example, SDS) this is not satisfactory. For them, currently the biggest problem is how to organise electoral campaign under conditions when, for example, a candidate of a party from Novo Sarajevo running for cantonal authorities, has to "fight" in the Sarajevo Canton, while a candidate for the Federal Parliament is in the electoral unit of the commune of Visoko, and voters of the state-level candidate are in Gorazde! Allegedly, such demarcation acrobatic tricks are the result of OSCE efforts to secure approximately equal number of voters in all electoral units, i.e. to have an approximately same number of electors voting for each representative. So if they lack some, they can find them in the neighbourhood.

In all fairness, OSCE gave several explanations which sound acceptable from the practical point of view. Since citizens of B&H will choose their candidates from open lists on November 11, this year, it would be rather complicated for voters to decide on a specific number of candidates if they would have to choose their candidate for state Parliament from over 80 lists with more than 40 candidates on each. Bearing in mind the fact that there are as many as 140 delegates to the Federal Parliament, it would be easy to imagine how these lists would look like.

However, no positive practical reason can reduce the gravity of the politically destructive solution which is imposed by the Temporary Election Rules. How does all this look in practice according to the OSCE scheme? For state Parliament, the B&H Federation is divided into five electoral units with two cantons in each, which is tolerable. However, for the Federal Parliament 10 Cantons of the &H Federation are divided into 12 electoral units, and the Republic of Srpska into 6! As an example, for the House of Representatives of the Federal Parliament the electoral unit No.1 is the Una-Sana Canton, No.2 is the Posavina Canton with a part of the Tuzla Canton and some voters from the Brcko District who have registered for the F B&H elections, electoral unit No.3 is only one part of the Tuzla Canton, while the remainder of the Tuzla Canton represents the electoral unit No.4.

The Zenica-Doboj Canton is divided into two electoral units, and the Canton of Sarajevo is also split in two, with one part forming a special electoral unit together with Bosansko-Podrinjski Canton... It sounds complicated, but the entire confusion will be fully demonstrated when parties start planning their electoral campaigns. Choppers would be the best means of transportation for quick movements from one end of an electoral unit to another.

In addition, OSCE has not yet defined the election method for members of the House of Nations! One party representative, a Serb from the B&H Federation, in other words, a person who according to the existing Rules and Regulations cannot be, e.g. a member of the House of Nations, said for AIM that he was once again afraid: "I have not yet accepted the fact that my rights in the B&H Federation are limited, that I cannot be a member of one of the highest bodies in the entity in which I live, and now again I know not what kind of surprise they have in store for me!"

How did OSCE become entangled in such a business and, on its own initiative, imposed electoral rules against which almost all B&H parties (apart from radical ones) - with the support of NGOs - expressed their opposition? Some analysts think that in this way OSCE is most probably "punishing" those who had assessed their work negatively, while according to others, with these imposed rules it only wanted to remind those responsible in the state Parliament that it was high time to get down to business and adopt Permanent Electoral Law. However, no matter how true these speculations might be, the answer most probably lies in the fact that there is confusion within OSCE caused by its wish to help the Bosniacs and Herzegovinians on the one side, and desire to primarily help some individuals in that organisation promote their careers, on the other. In such a confusion, the objective established in numerous declarations on democratisation and reintegration of B&H, is unfortunately becoming increasingly marginal.

Original article