Observers critical of intimidation at polls

Bosnia elections: European delegation at odds with Americans and ballot organisers over success of first post-war vote

Bosnia's first post-war elections passed at the weekend more peacefully than the West had dreamed possible but it was marred by intimidation and many irregularities - at least according to European observers - whose assessment was at odds with the satisfaction expressed by a US delegation and international officials who organised the ballot.

Counting began on time in the Muslim-Croat Federation but was suspended in the Srpska Republic, the other half of Bosnia, because Serb officials misunderstood their role in counting refugee votes cast abroad, mostly by Muslims expelled from Serb territory. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which organised the vote, said the problem had been resolved but admitted some Serb areas would not start vote-counting until today.

The ruling Muslim party complained about conditions in the Srpska Republic even before the polls closed; it was dismissed as "very vague" by Richard Holbrooke, US author of the Dayton peace plan and these elections. He admitted his delegation had visited only 20 or 30 polling stations, saying: "We did not see things to disqualify the process." He did cite one exception, a Serb-held area in Gorazde where officials slowed the Muslim vote.

The chief election monitor, Ed van Thijn, issues a report today on the fairness of the election, but, given the international desire for a happy outcome, few expect a negative report.

However, a European Union delegation led by a German, Doris Pack, was strongly critical. Asked if she thought Mr van Thijn would rule the elections "free and fair", she said: "I'm sure you cannot use those two words." She too cited Serb Gorazde, where by midday 10 times more Serbs than Muslims were able to vote, and called the Holbrooke delegation's early assessment "superficial".

Despite the fact that the elections were supposed to reverse "ethnic cleansing" by allowing Muslims to vote in their home towns, the result was a kind of apartheid, with separate polling stations set up for Serbs and Muslims in many areas. In several cases, Muslims had to queue for hours while nearby Serb stations were almost empty. And because of errors in OSCE transcriptions of electoral registers, some people were unable to vote.

Thousands of Bosnian Muslims expelled from their homes in the war did not vote because they had not registered as absentee voters in their home towns and were unwilling to cross the old front lines to cast a ballot in person.

The violence feared by Carl Bildt, who leads the civilian mission in Bosnia, and Nato commanders here, did not materialise. "We were prepared for the worst and we had a day that could be described as dull. We were dreaming of a dull day," he said.

But violence in the run-up to elections directed at opposition parties in both the Federation and the Srpska Republic, and threats against Muslims trying to return to homes in the Srpska Republic deterred many from voting. The elections were allowed to proceed despite the fact that there is nothing like full freedom of movement across the old front line, there is no freedom of the press, of assembly and of expression in the Srpska Republic, and that such freedoms are limited in the Federation. Such conditions were conducive mainly to candidates of the three nationalist parties, which feed on fear of the other.

"It looks to us as if the elections have served a very negative process - they have not been a peace-building process,' said John Fawcett of the International Crisis Group, an independent organisation working in Bosnia.

Where the voting went wrong

Initial electoral abuses reported by observers included:

t A polling station for Muslims near Serb-held Brckow positioned next to a minefield

t A second station for Muslims from Srebrenica located up an almost impassable dirt road

t Muslims asked to vote 250 metres from a mass grave that had contained their compatriots

t Serb officials crossing names off the electoral register with pencils

t And sealing tape being pulled off a ballot box because the humid conditions allegedly made it start to peel on its own accord

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'