Elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina: statement by the pre-electoral delegation

A pre-electoral delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) visited Sarajevo and Banja Luka to assess the election campaign and the preparation of the General elections to be held in Bosnia and Herzegovina on 7 October 2018.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has observed all elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina since 1996. Regarding the legal framework for elections, the pre-electoral delegation recalls its Resolution 2201 (2018) and regrets that the elections will be held “under a legal and constitutional framework which is in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights (ETS No. 5) since the 2009 judgment in the case of Sejdic and Finci: once again, only Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs can run for the State Presidency or be elected/appointed to the State House of Peoples”.

In this regard, the PACE pre-electoral delegation expressed its great concern that, despite the Assembly’s previous resolutions on incompatibility of the constitution and election legislation with the European Convention on Human Rights, the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina failed to amend the constitutional and legal framework to remove ethnicity- and residency-based discrimination with regard to the right to stand for elections to the Presidency and House of Peoples.

As a result, the 7 October general election once again will be held in violation of the Convention. As in 2014, interlocutors from the political parties again promised to solve this matter after the elections of October 2018. Developments concerning this particular issue will be under close scrutiny as part of the Assembly’s monitoring procedure.

The pre-electoral delegation recalls that an election is a process and is not limited to voting day. It notes that the election campaign is calm, and that all political contestants are able to campaign freely without restriction. Nevertheless, many interlocutors reported cases of inflammatory and nationalistic rhetoric and hate speech; allegations of misuse of administrative and public resources; vote-buying; intimidation and pressure on public sector and private companies’ employees to vote in favour of the relevant ruling parties. The delegation also notes that, regrettably, the election campaign remains segmented along ethnic lines, as was the case in previous elections.

The media environment is diverse and pluralistic. Public broadcasters have the obligation to ensure equal access for all political parties and not to privilege the ruling parties. However, not all political parties are receiving equal airtime. Different interlocutors pointed out that public and private media are widely perceived to be under pressure from political parties or business interests. The lack of transparency of media ownership was mentioned. The delegation heard about problems in the media environment including threats to journalists, the failure of some politicians to respond to invitations to debate on TV and radio, creating a culture which has failed to sufficiently develop an independent and strong media sector that allows voters to make a well-informed choice.

With regard to the financing of the election campaign, relevant regulations were recently amended, largely in line with Council of Europe GRECO recommendations, in particular the rules for contributions and expenditure as well as for sanctions in case of campaign finance violations. However, according to some interlocutors, a large part of campaign finance remains unreported and is outside of the Central Election Commission (CEC) audits.

The delegation noted the transparency and efforts of the CEC, despite numerous pressures, and in a challenging and complicated political environment, also with limited human and financial resources. The registration of parties and candidates was inclusive, but concerns were raised about the accuracy of the voting registers. Some interlocutors informed the delegation that among contestants a significant number of parties and candidates seem to be fictitious in order to obtain seats in polling stations for possible manipulation of the electoral process. The delegation is not able to check these allegations, but - if they are revealed as credible – they could undermine further the public trust in a democratic electoral process, which is still low in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The PACE delegation was also informed about the danger of manipulation around the out-of-country voting. According to many interlocutors, the main challenge on voting day for the electoral administration could be the counting and tabulations of the results. Therefore, the delegation asks the CEC, and other relevant stakeholders, to take all appropriate measures to avoid possible irregularities during the voting and counting processes.

The delegation heard from mainly male interlocutors and noted, with regret, the low profile of women in the campaign.

Finally, the PACE delegation welcomes the essential work of the growing number of  civil society organisations actively involved in the election observation process, and encourages them to continue their activities.

The delegation had meetings in Sarajevo and Banja Luka with leaders and representatives of political parties, representatives of the collegium of the BiH Parliamentary Assembly, the Chair of the Central Election Commission, representatives of the international community and OSCE/ODIHR mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina. In addition they met with representatives of civil society and media.

The Parliamentary Assembly will send a 32-member delegation to observe the general elections on 7 October 2018.

Members of the delegation:

Dame Cheryl Gillan (United Kingdom, EC), Head of the delegation,

Angela Smith (United Kingdom, SOC)

Claude Kern (France, ALDE)

Petter Eide (Norway, UEL)

Tiny Kox (Netherlands, UEL), Rapporteur of the Monitoring Committee