Bosnia and Herzegovina: Congress delegation welcomes more transparent procedures but calls for cantonal/local elections to be held on different dates from general elections

Elections Bosnia and Herzegovina 3 October 2022
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Bosnia and Herzegovina: Congress delegation welcomes more transparent procedures but calls for cantonal/local elections to be held on different dates from general elections

A delegation of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, composed of 19 participants from 17 countries, was deployed as part of an election observation mission in the 10 cantons of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the Brčko district to observe the elections of 2 October 2022 in some 110 polling stations.

In its preliminary conclusions, the delegation, led by Stewart Dickson (UK, ILDG), found that election day was generally orderly. Despite the problems faced by political parties in appointing election officials, the polling station commissions were aware of the procedures and had received sufficient training – which is essential given the complexity of the electoral system and procedures in this country.

Congress observers welcomed the fact that some recommendations of the Congress have been followed, in particular that of no longer reading out loud the names of voters presenting themselves at the PECs. In addition, in order to prevent the photographing of ballot papers - and therefore vote buying or family voting - the voting booths were, for the first time, positioned differently, contributing to more transparency and helping to avoid use of mobile phones. However, in many small polling stations the new arrangement seriously hampered the secrecy of the vote.

With regard to the quality of the voter lists, the measures taken by the Central Election Commission to "clean up" the lists and remove deceased voters, as well as the electronic application tool for out-of-country voting in order to prevent multiple registration of voters at the same address is a positive development. The same applies to the establishment of a security stamp to prevent the circulation of falsified ballots. However, the “assisted voting” procedure for voters with visual impairment, as well as the accessibility of polling stations for the elderly and disabled, need to be reviewed before the next elections.

Overall, the delegation found that the Central Election Commission of Bosnia and Herzegovina has made many efforts to increase the transparency of procedures and to make electoral management more accessible to citizens. Moreover, the electoral amendments introduced by the High Representative concerning hate speech seem to have contributed to a slightly less aggressive campaign climate, even if the sanctions in the event of irregularities and abuses should be issued quicker to protect candidates running for office, notably female candidates.

Observers also pointed out related issues such as the misuse of administrative resources, the lack of transparency regarding private media ownership, and the overregulation of public media unlike social media, which is growing in importance, as well than the influence of political parties that define themselves by ethnicity and do not offer voters any content beyond that.

The observers expressed their agreement with the Central Election Commission in view of a modification of the law in order to professionalise the recruitment of the members of the commissions working in the polling stations and to limit the political parties to their role of election observers. In addition, they reiterated the recommendation of the Congress to organise the cantonal elections at the same time as the local elections, on different dates from the general elections, in order to avoid that they are overshadowed by the presidential and parliamentary ballots.

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