Four ballots for Bosnia

By Jan Lieb­nitzky.
On 12th of Octo­ber 2014 there have been gen­er­al elec­tions in Bosnia and Herce­gov­ina. The war-torn eth­ni­cal­ly divid­ed coun­try has one of the most com­pli­cat­ed polit­i­cal and elec­toral sys­tems in the world –Reflec­tions of an inter­na­tion­al elec­tion observer. 


It is 7 o’clock in the ear­ly morn­ing and unex­pect­ed­ly chilly. The walls are dec­o­rat­ed with hand­craft­ed lit­tle Eif­fel tow­ers and a poster explain­ing traf­fic signs. The first vot­er of the day spends sol­id eight min­utes behind the white board of paper. We, instead, are sit­ting already since an hour on these small chairs in a class room of a pri­ma­ry school in Sara­je­vo. We are Mar­i­ja from the Nether­lands and Jan from Ger­many part of AEGEE Europe. On our jack­et dan­gles a pink weld­ed plas­tic card prov­ing that we are accred­it­ed for an elec­tion obser­va­tion mis­sion by in Bosnia and Herce­gov­ina. At this untime­ly hour we observe the count­ing of emp­ty bal­lots into pack­ages of 25, toss the bal­lot box to see if it is tru­ly emp­ty, test if it is prop­er­ly sealed and marked in the polling sta­tion log book.

On 12th of Octo­ber 2014 there have been gen­er­al elec­tions in Bosnia and Herce­gov­ina. It was clear from the begin­ning that there will not be huge changes in its polit­i­cal land­scape. “I will go vote, but noth­ing will hap­pen any­way”, com­ments a pass­er-by on the event. Many peo­ple here agree to that. In the begin­ning of the year, how­ev­er, one would have expect­ed things to be dif­fer­ent: In many cities of the Fed­er­a­tion of Bosnia and Herce­gov­ina occurred vio­lent anti-gov­ern­ment street protests against cor­rupt polit­i­cal elites and mis­gov­ern­ment. Many lead­ing politi­cians resigned and a cit­i­zen plenum was estab­lished for instance in Sara­je­vo. But, a prop­er par­ty did not result from that process.

Mean­time, already ten vot­ers made their cross­es and insert­ed the bal­lots one by one into the box. Stuff­ing is pro­hib­it­ed because in a bal­lot could find its way out­side the polling sta­tion and Carousel Vot­ing might occur: The “vot­er” receives a pre-marked bal­lot out­side the polling sta­tion insert­ing it into the vot­ing box and instead brings an emp­ty bal­lot out­side. This pro­ce­dure may hap­pen for every vot­er who wants to sell his voice. Alleged­ly, in rur­al Bosnia votes are bought for 25EUR.

A fur­ther prob­lem might occur dur­ing bal­lot count­ing in the evening. Observers ought to keep atten­tion that bal­lots are not made invalid or votes added to the paper. Major irreg­u­lar­i­ties, how­ev­er, were not report­ed by any of our teams, nei­ther in the coun­try­side in Bin­jeze­vo and Hadzi­ci nor in the city of Sarajevo.

Dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal sys­tems for dif­fer­ent ethnics

The Day­ton Agree­ment 1995 divid­ed the coun­try in two inde­pen­dent enti­ties with dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal sys­tems. In Repub­li­ka Srp­s­ka Ser­bians are in the major­i­ty. Bosni­aks (Bosn­ian Mus­lims) and Croats are liv­ing espe­cial­ly in the Fed­er­a­tion of Bosnia and Herze­gov­ina. Both enti­ties have their own nation­al plus com­mu­nal gov­ern­ments, and the Fed­er­a­tion of Bosnia and Herze­gov­ina has addi­tion­al can­ton­al gov­ern­ments. The com­plex­i­ty of the con­sti­tu­tion­al set up of Bosnia and Herze­gov­ina is reflect­ed in its elec­toral sys­tem. There were four dif­fer­ent bal­lots which were not even the same for all enti­ties, since in Repub­li­ka Srp­s­ka dif­fer­ent can­di­dates and polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions are vot­ed for than in Fed­er­a­tion of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Many polit­i­cal par­ties in Bosnia and Herze­gov­ina are organ­ised along eth­nic bound­aries. The pres­i­den­cy is shared by rota­tion every eight months among a Croat, a Serb and a Bosni­ak. This eth­ni­cal pro­por­tion sys­tem which exists for oth­er polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions, too, sus­tain the country’s polit­i­cal dead­lock for instance with regard to the imple­men­ta­tion of human rights. The last Euro­pean Progress Report 2013 states that Jews and Roma are still not allowed to run for impor­tant polit­i­cal posts such as the presidency.

The rul­ing elite will per­sist also after the elec­tions, because too many peo­ple prof­it from the sta­tus quo. Bosnia and Herze­gov­ina has 40% of non-work­ing pop­u­la­tion and a huge pub­lic sec­tor com­pris­ing hun­dreds of min­istries. When the state is the biggest employ­er, every vote for a new non-con­formist par­ty could cost your own job or the one of a relative.

Ste­fan works in the polling sta­tion in Garov­ci and lived in Bavaria, Ger­many dur­ing the war. In per­fect Ger­man he tells us that all polling can­vassers and domes­tic observers are affil­i­at­ed with dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal par­ties. The domes­tic observers are sur­pris­ing­ly young and cross check all vot­ers with their own list. In case a par­ty mem­ber did not show up until the after­noon, he or she would be called and remind­ed to go vot­ing. Every vote counts.

The doors are shut in time at 7 o’clock pm. Nobody must leave or enter the polling sta­tion from now on until all bal­lots are count­ed. In total we are 20 peo­ple with this com­mon des­tiny: four inter­na­tion­al observers, 12 domes­tic observers from the dif­fer­ent par­ties and ten polling sta­tion offi­cials. Tables are pushed togeth­er, cracks taped, pens put far away and wed­ding rings tak­en off – as a proof, hands are stretched into the air. Count­ing pro­ce­dure can start now. A first dra­ma hap­pens when one bal­lot is miss­ing after the first count. Do the polling sta­tion offi­cials have to recount every­thing now? A huge relief is sen­si­ble when the bal­lot appeared. The next hours until the ear­ly morn­ing work goes on monot­o­nous­ly: Count­ing. Keep­ing calm and con­cen­trate. Keep count­ing. When an invalid bal­lot with an extra mark for Wladimir Putin appeared, sprits rose. Then count­ing again.

For fur­ther infor­ma­tion about the elec­tion in Bosnia and Herce­gov­ina can be found at OSCE and AEGEE Europe.

Jan Lieb­nitzky cur­rent­ly stud­ies psy­chol­o­gy and eco­nom­ics at TU Dres­den. At the moment he finalis­es his the­sis of diplo­ma with the top­ic of mor­al­iz­ing process­es and atti­tudes con­cern­ing human­i­tar­i­an interventions. 


The views and opin­ions expressed in this arti­cle are those of the author.

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