29 June 1998
Preparing Bosnia For Democracy
As election-time looms again in Bosnia the buzz-word is 'democratisation'.
After a year of postponements the registration process for the September
municipal elections ended on June 28. Our man in Sarajevo Dave Chandler
explains why the only people being empowered in this election are the Great
Powers that run the country
The Dayton Peace Agreement, imposed by US diplomatic and military force,
legalises the international protectorate over Bosnia but makes no mention
of any mandate to 'democratise' the people of the new state. The
Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) was mandated to
'supervise' the conduct of elections and to ensure they are 'free and
fair'. The term 'supervision' has been interpreted broadly. The Head of the
OSCE Bosnia Mission, US Ambassador Frowick, has the final power of decision
as the Chair of the Provisional Election Committee (PEC) which lays down
election rules. In May the PEC published an 84 page set of draconian
regulations. These upcoming elections have pushed the mandate to new
extremes, as the OSCE Mission Public Affairs Officer proudly stated 'these
elections are the most supervised elections anywhere, ever'.
For the first time registration is mandatory for all those wishing to vote,
and all information has been computerised to enable precise monitoring.
International supervisors are in charge of every registration and polling
station, ensuring compliance with the OSCE Voter Registration Manual which
lays down every imaginable regulation from security procedures down to the
number of ball point pens, pencils and pencil sharpeners each station is to
have (two, sixteen and four respectively).
Infringing any of the 500-plus electoral regulations can result in
candidates and even parties being struck off the election lists. In the
Republica Srpska entity, for example, for contraventions ranging from
insulting foreign monitors to election irregularities, the OSCE has struck
off a number of SDS candidates and permanently banned them from public
office, removed several registration centre chairmen and decertified the
SDS from one municipality entirely. OSCE penalties sometimes impose
'collective guilt' to create examples; in response to an assault on
returning Serb refugees in Drvar the first name on the Croatian HDZ party
list was barred permanently from public office.
The run up to the elections has meant a special focus on 'democratising'
the media, which for the OSCE means developing the capacity 'to monitor and
enforce compliance with Provisional Election Commission rules'. The OSCE
Media Development Strategy for 1997 includes the support of media not
influenced by the government or the major parties, the compilation of a
database on all individuals involved in the media, surveys to establish the
key media to be influenced and 'extensive use of mandatory broadcast or
publication of materials' chosen by the OSCE chaired and selected Media
Experts Commission. There are harsh penalties for 'media violations' which
can include anything that infringes the regulations on political
neutrality, balanced and impartial information, inaccuracy or inflammatory
Controlling the election process may well not be enough to undermine the
support of the three main nationalist parties seeking to renew their
popular mandates of opposition to the Bosnian state imposed by Dayton. That
is why this year 'democratisation' has become a central aspect of the
OSCE's presence in Bosnia with the establishment of an OSCE Democratisation
Branch and full-time Democratisation Officers based in every OSCE regional
and field office. Their job is to pressurise the main parties through
setting up and supporting 'grass-roots' opposition projects which they
encourage to become 'citizens groups' and NGOs. If the elections fail to
bring the right result the OSCE will attempt to bring together these
unelectable 'citizens groups' as a 'Shadow Government' or a 'Citizens
Alternative Parliament' representing the 'true voice of the people' as
judged by the unaccountable, US funded democracy experts.
Dave Chandler will be speaking at the New Democratic Order dayschool on
29th July 1997 at the University of London Union, London W1.
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