For Bosnians, 2020 not only represents the year of Covid-19 outbreak like the rest of the world. As a matter of fact, it is somehow a special year: amid the emergency, citizens have been called out to express their votes for the new municipal elections.
The presence of international organisations still operating in the country, the proximity to European borders and its potential candidacy for EU membership makes Bosnia and Herzegovina a crucial actor in the Eastern European region, particularly in terms of socio-political stability. For all these reasons, the international community can hardly avoid looking at the democratic backsliding the country has been experiencing in the last few years. Even according to Freedom House, one of the most popular organisations focused on analysing states’ political trends, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s democracy scores are far from comforting. All this motivated the community to maintain some room for manoeuvre by carrying remote observation procedures and expressing recommendations for free and fair elections.
Nevertheless, critical situations started to become evident more than a month prior the elections. In early October, the BiH Personal Data Protection Agency issued a ban to the Central Election Commission from publishing on its website information related to voters registered outside BiH. The Commission promptly defended itself by stating that no personal information undermining identity protection has been shared online. Rather, what had been published was an excerpt aimed at ensuring accuracy, correctness and overall integrity of the Central Voters’ Register. Fairly or not, the situation did not improve. According to local media inquiries, some weeks later almost 28,000 applications have been sent to the Central Election Commission due to irregularities in ballot registrations. More specifically, these concerned erroneous registrations and identity theft: people found their exact names associated to addresses situated in other countries such as Serbia, Croatia and Austria in which have never been even once in their lives. And this happened as well with identities of deceased: dead people presumedly conserved the right to vote.
Another trick emerged has been the actual total number of people having the right to vote. For the 2020 election, 3,283,194 names are registered on the list issued by the Commission. Yet, according to the census data adjusted for births and deaths from 2013 until 2020, the number of Bosnian citizens aged over 18 is just 1,908,432. Even taking into account registered voters of emigrants, who number 101,771, the number of registered voters is still over 270,000 higher than the number of eligible voters.
If this was the prelude, the rest of the opera did not arise surprises. Yet on Sunday morning controversial episodes started to take place. In Banja Luka observers have been denied access to polling stations, justified by risks related to Covid-19. In other areas of the country, polling stations did not open on time and remained closed for a few hours due to apparent technical problems. Later in the day, also in Doboj, PDP (Party of Democratic Progress) opposition observers have been denied access to 68 polling stations. Igor Crnadak, member of the party, pledged to present a claim to the Doboj and Central Electoral Commission both. For what concerns instead the vote through post, on one hand the Central Electoral Commission removed thousands of fictitious voters that had been erroneously inserted in the registration process; on the other hand it has actually impeded many other people to express their votes. The BiH Ambassador to Greece Milica Ristović Krstić, as well as many other Bosnian citizens living abroad, have been denied to perform a constitutional guaranteed action such as voting. These cases involve the lack of all the material needed to vote through post and the obligation to deliver votes by the 15th of November… an impossible due date when all paperwork is absent. Immediately after the elections, the Head of the OSCE Mission to BiH Kathleen Kavalec urged the Central Election Commission, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to openly react toward the numerous alleged irregularities occurred. Apart from this communication, a huge silent on the topic permeates European actors so far.
Aside from formal irregularities, votes count has continued. Even if official results have not been released yet, there are already formal projections. In particular, an interesting fact has been the re-election of two war crimes perpetrators. Respectively in Velika Kladusa and Vlasenica, Fikred Abdić and Miroslav Kraljević have been nominated mayors. The former had been convicted of ten years while the latter is still on trial. Kraljević is accused of being responsible for the persecution of Bosniak civilians through detentions, murders, sexual abuse, torture and disappearances. In addition, he was convicted in 2013 of kidnapping a councillor from another party and holding him captive in Serbia for twelve days. He served the sentence by paying a 2,000 euros fine.
In spite of all this news, luckily every cloud has a silver lining. After twelve years, Mostarians will exercise voting power again. The Central Electoral Commission announced Mostar will hold its elections on the 20th of December. The need to postpone the event is based on the necessity to amend local electoral regulations, thus publishing the specific rules for the 35 municipal councillor selection.   Will this finally be the first credible step towards democracy?
 Sarajevo Times, OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina calls for calm and safe Election Day, 12 November 2020, available at: http://www.sarajevotimes.com/osce-mission-to-bosnia-and-herzegovina-calls-for-calm-and-safe-election-day/
 Council of the European Union, Council conclusions on Bosnia and Herzegovina / Operation EUFOR ALTHEA, available at: https://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-11433-2020-INIT/en/pdf
 Central Election Commission, The BiH Central Election Commission banned from publishing excerpt from the Central Voters’ Register for voting outside BiH, available at: https://www.izbori.ba/default.aspx?CategoryID=183&Lang=6&Id=3331
 Balkan Insight, Daniel Kovacevic, As Bosnia Election Looms Fears of Fraud in Votes Cast Abroad, 16 October 2020, available at: https://balkaninsight.com/2020/10/16/as-bosnia-election-looms-fears-of-fraud-in-votes-cast-abroad/
 Majda Ruge, The voting dead: Why electoral fraud in Bosnia should matter to the EU, European Council on Foreign Relations, 26 October 2020, available at: https://ecfr.eu/article/the-voting-dead-why-electoral-fraud-in-bosnia-should-matter-to-the-eu/
 AlJazeera Balkans, Otvorena birališta u BiH Available at: http://balkans.aljazeera.net/live-blog/otvorena-biralista-u-bih
 DW BiH, BiH: U atmosferi sumnje u izborni process, available at: https://www.dw.com/sr/bih-u-atmosferi-sumnje-u-izborni-proces/a-55607832
 Statement of OSCE Mission to BiH Head Kavalec following the local elections 2020, 17 November 2020, available at: https://us6.campaign-archive.com/?e=415af26069&u=b11aceda364f8f9afa6cadbbb&id=cfbdb0daa2
 Emina Dizdarevic, War Criminal Re-Elected as Mayor in Bosnia, Balkan Insight, available at: https://balkaninsight.com/2020/11/16/war-criminal-re-elected-as-mayor-in-bosnia/
 France24, Bosnian town mayor charged with war crimes, available at: https://www.france24.com/en/20171206-bosnian-town-mayor-charged-with-war-crimes
 Reuters, Bosnia’s city of Mostar to hold election on December 20 after 12 years, available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-bosnia-mostar-election-idUSKCN24O1VP
 Blic, IZBORI KRAJEM DECEMBRA Mostar jedini grad u BiH u kojem birališta danas nisu otvorena available at: https://www.blic.rs/vesti/republika-srpska/izbori-krajem-decembra-mostar-jedini-grad-u-bih-u-kojem-biralista-danas-nisu-otvorena/mswgf9e?utm_source=sport_ostale_strane_sidebar&utm_medium=sidebar_najnovije_info
 Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, Adoption of amendments to the Election Law of Bosnia and Herzegovina welcomed by Congress spokespersons, 9 July 2020, available at: https://www.coe.int/en/web/congress/-/mostar-adoption-of-amendments-to-the-election-law-of-bosnia-and-herzegovina-welcomed-by-congress-spokespersons
 Alekandar Brezar, Euronews, Inside Mostar, the Bosnian city that hasn’t had a local election in 12 years, 2 October 2020, available at: https://www.euronews.com/2020/10/02/inside-mostar-the-bosnian-city-that-hasn-t-had-a-local-election-in-12-years