Free and Fair elections in Bosnia?
By Dr. Nedzib Sacirbey
If Western leaders had not depended so much on the so-called military experts who succeeded, for a long time, in preventing proper action to stop the war criminals, Karadzic and Mladic, and the bloodshed in Bosnia, we would have 200,000 people still alive, no need for the Dayton Peace Accord, and maybe Karadzic and Mladic would still be citizens, not war criminals. Maybe we can learn something from this horror.
Now we face elections on September 14. According to the Dayton Peace Agreement, the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Republika Srpska agreed to hold free, fair and democratic elections in a politically neutral environment. The election should be for the Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Parliament of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Parliament of Republika Srpska and President of Republika Srpska and, if possible, for the assemblies of cantons and municipalities. As a farther condition, Annex three of the Dayton Agreement insists that freedom of news media and freedom of movement throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina should exist as well as the freedom of refugees to return to their homes.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is in charge of elections, and its chairman, Swiss Foreign Minister Mr. Flavio Cotty, has shown hesitation in agreeing that elections should be held on September 14, 1996. U.S. media frequently report pending Bosnia elections, and almost all reports from the area are very critical about the conditions in Bosnia, in particular, Republika Srpska and the so-called 'Croatian Republic Herzeg Bosna' area under control of H.V.O. (Croatian Council of Defense).
We in Bosnia and Herzegovina need and want to have elections as the way to integrate the country and its institutions and continue the process of reconciliation. We want free, fair, democratic elections. Contrary to what some of the key negotiators say, we cannot settle for 'not perfect' or 'imperfect' elections, because not perfect or imperfect means the elections are not free or not fair or both, therefore they are simply unjust. It is a positive for Bosnia that the decision is not in the hands of Bosnians. We cannot be accused of bias if we call or postpone elections. But whoever makes that decision will not be judged just today, but evaluated by history-a permanent part of the record of the statesmen involved.
Several reputable international organizations such as the Helsinki Watch International Crisis Center and others have reported that there is no freedom of the news media in the Republika Srpska and the area under control of the Croatian Council of Defense (the so-called Croatian Republic Herzeg Bosna). There is freedom of the media in the cities of Sarajevo, Travnik, Tuzla and Zenica which are under the control of the Bosnian government. There is no freedom of movement in the Republika Srpska, and no return of refugees. We recently saw on television how Serbs and police in the Republika Srpska beat Bosnian Muslims who were trying to return to their homes in Mahala, a village on the line separating the Federation of Bosnia Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska.
Another serious problem in the upcoming election is registration of voters and the voting of refugees living abroad, including the U.S. Thousands wait to learn if they are registered or wait for absentee ballots to arrive in the mail. They are anxious because time is running out and they are concerned that their right to vote will be taken by someone's negligence.
Many were relieved when American Ambassador Robert Frowick, in charge of the OSCE mission in Bosnia, postponed municipality elections, and it is my personal belief that conditions for free and fair elections do not exist at this time. Unfortunately, those in charge were slow in creating proper conditions for holding elections, and the outcome of the upcoming elections will reflect how poorly they exercised their responsibilities.
Cover Photo by Arman Dz