West slams Bosnian assembly over draft election law

SARAJEVO, Jan 21, 2000 -- (Reuters) Western officials criticized Bosnia's state parliament on Thursday for failing to adopt a draft election law designed to encourage more moderate politics in the ethnically polarized Balkan country.

They said the house of representatives had voted against even discussing the law at a session on Tuesday - only hours after Council of Europe leaders told the assembly it was needed for joining the 41-nation human rights and democracy forum.

The proposal by international and local experts would replace provisional rules on how to run elections in post-war Bosnia. It was intended to be in place for October elections.

"Irresponsible politicians are standing in the way of Bosnia-Herzegovina joining Europe," said spokeswoman Tanya Domi for the local mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

"They are preventing, as a consequence, foreign investment that would stabilize the political and economic conditions that are so necessary to the long-term interest of the people that they were allegedly elected to represent," she told reporters.

The Office of the international High Representative (OHR), which coordinates civilian efforts to rebuild Bosnia, said it continued to believe that the draft was a good proposal.

But it did not say whether High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch might now impose the legislation, as he has the authority to do under the peace accords.

"The process on the election law will and must continue," said Domi of the OSCE.

Western diplomats say the proposal could help reduce the grip on power of Muslim, Croat and Serb nationalist parties representing mainly their own ethnic groups. General elections in 1996 and 1998 failed to significantly weaken their position.

If the new rules came into force, candidates would need to win at least some support from voters in both of the autonomous entities that make up Bosnia following the 1992-1995 war - the Muslim-Croat federation and the Serb republic.

It would also introduce an open list system, giving voters the possibility to vote for individual candidates and not just for parties. "This law challenges the status quo and attacks the powers of parties," said one Western diplomat.

But opposition politicians have criticized the proposal for not changing the way the inter-ethnic presidency is elected.

They say it violates human right conventions because people living in the Serb republic cannot vote for Muslim or Croat presidency candidates and vice versa.

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