A certain number of incidents and irregularities in terms of violation of the Election Law and implementing regulations, which occurred in certain municipalities, were observed on the Election Day, and there were several diﬀerent types of irregularities observed in the pre-election period.
The electoral legislation in BiH is instituted on Annex III (Agreement on Elections), Annex IV (the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina) of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the BiH Election Law that provide an adequate legal framework for the conduct of democratic elections. The election administration in BiH consists of election commissions (the BiH Central Election Commission and local election commissions) and the polling station committees. The Central Election Commission had passed the decision announcing the Local Elections in BiH on May 4, 2016. Local elections were held on Sunday, October 2. A total of 3.277 mandate holders were to be elected. A total of 451 political subjects and 30.445 candidates participated in the elections. A total of 3.255.018 voters had the right to vote at these local elections, and voting took place at 5.469 polling stations.
The 2016 Local Elections were held in a political setting that posed a challenge to democratic, fair and free elections in the country. The following events had marked the election year: conflicts between parliamentary political subjects at diﬀerent levels of authority and between candidates in certain local communities, polarization of political spectrum in the Republika Srpska (RS) entity to two blocks, RS National Day referendum, low work intensity of majority of government institutions and elected representatives’ commitment to the election campaign, failure to conduct elections in the City of Mostar, a great number of electoral irregularities reported before the Election Day, and an election campaign that was characterized by sharp and/or inappropriate rhetoric especially in ethnically nonhomogeneous settings. It is also very important to highlight amendments to the electoral legislation that were passed just before the elections were announced, and in the context of political circumstances one also has to highlight submission and acceptance of the BiH’s application for EU membership.
The attention of the public in the pre-election period was substantially directed towards two municipalities in BiH – Srebrenica and Stolac. While the case of Srebrenica represents an ongoing political tension about election of the mayor, which occurs every local elections the case of Stolac municipality represents a series of registered electoral irregularities that occurred before the Election Day. The Coalition finds that the BiH Central Election Commission (BiH CEC) did not timely respond to reported irregularities, and the situation climaxed on the Election Day with a violent interruption of the electoral process due to non-observance of the provisions of the BiH Election Law and the BiH CEC’s implementing regulations by individuals from the local election commission and polling station committees, and also by some of the candidates from lists of political subjects, thereby seriously undermining the integrity of electoral process in this municipality.
Election administration prepared and organized the elections mainly in line with the Election Law and implementing regulations. However, the BiH CEC’s concrete reaction to observed problems, shortcomings and irregularities in the electoral process was missing in a large number of cases, especially when it comes to imposing sanctions on the oﬀenders. The BiH CEC also rarely acts ex-oﬃcio, and adequate sanctions for more severe violations of the electoral process are also missing, especially when it comes to claims about trading of positions on the polling station committees. The Coalition had informed the BiH Central Election Commission about the latter on September 7, 2016. Majority of local election commissions made adequate arrangements for the conduct of elections. In relation to the 2014 General Elections the work of local election commissions was organizationally improved by enactment of the Instruction on method of work and reporting of the election commission of a basic constituency in BiH thereby increasing accountability and transparency in the work of these election bodies. The Coalition believes, as it did after the 2014 General Elections, that the polling station committees are still one of the biggest problems in the electoral process, and that thorough changes and concrete improvements have to be made concerning the procedures of appointment and training of the polling station committees’ members. Actual cases of trading of positions on the polling station committees by political subjects were registered, and it represents a harsh violation of the Election Law. A large number of irregularities registered on the Election Day are, in Coalition’s opinion, result of insuﬃcient training and unpreparedness of the polling station committees to properly carry out the electoral process.
The election campaign, as in the previous election cycles, began even before the oﬃcial launch on September 2. For these elections, the campaign revealed that a large number of political subjects were fixated on the manipulation of voters’ electoral will. The latter manifested through pressures being exerted on the voters, as well as through buying and distribution of diﬀerent gifts to the voters. The trend of running the election campaign to induce feelings of fear among the voters, usually associated with ethno-national divisions in the BiH society, has been continued.
In principle, it can be said that most of the media generally complied with the standards of fair, objective and balanced reporting. The data on decline of hate speech is encouraging, although there are still examples of some other forms of inappropriate speech in the public space. The most troubling are most certainly the cases of advocacy reporting by some media i.e. the tendency of reporting (more) positively about some political subjects in relation to the others. In general, we can say that the media did meet the informative role, but both the educational (education of political public, especially about the local topics) and orientational functions were slightly less used.
At the majority of polling stations and in the local election commissions in BiH the Election Day was conducted in accordance with the Election Law and the implementing regulations, and mainly in a democratic and fair atmosphere, with the exception of the elections in the municipality of Stolac. Observers and mobile teams of the Coalition “Pod lupom” recorded and reported approximately 300 situations in the field that the Coalition found to be serious violations of the electoral rules and regulations for which it requested action to be taken both by the polling station committees and the local election commissions. The largest number of reported irregularities related to open solicitation at the polling stations – 43 reported cases; systematic violations of electoral rules and regulations, which include so-called “family voting”, abuse of the “voting assistance” principle, sending a large number of voters away from the polling station, because they are not on the excerpt from the CVR – 49 reported cases; and also 6 cases of adding votes to the ballot papers. A large number of reported irregularities related to discrepancies in the accuracy test that compares number of received ballot papers before the opening of the polling station in relation to the sum of the number of unused, damaged and used ballot papers after opening of the ballot box.
Observes of the Coalition filed 143 objections, which were recorded in the polling station log book, in 64 municipalities/cities on the Election Day. Based on the reports of the Coalition’s observers, the presidents of the polling station committees at 12 polling stations refused to enter observers’ objections into the PS log book, thus drastically violating provisions of the Law. The Coalition will request appropriate sanctions for the presidents of these polling station committees to be pronounced.
The BiH CEC observed the deadlines relating to the announcement of election results. The results of the 2016 Local Elections were confirmed and published on November 1. The BiH CEC received 390 complaints and appeals concerning the electoral process, while the Coalition noted that local election commissions had received 104 complaints from the political subjects only in the pre-election period. Majority of the complaints led with the election administration in the pre-election period were rejected on various grounds.
Furthermore, the Coalition also monitored implementation of the election results. The BiH CEC presented mandate certificates to the elected executive oﬃce-holders, municipal/city mayors on November 8. The vast majority of the local representative bodies, as well as the Assembly of Brčko District of BiH, were established within 30 days following the announcement of confirmed results i.e. until November 30, 2016. Ten local councils/assemblies held their constituting sessions after this date, while local representative bodies in nine municipalities were not established as of December 12, 2016.
The Coalition for free and fair elections “Pod lupom” that consists of 6 civil society organizations from the entire Bosnia and Herzegovina observed the pre-election, election and post-election period in BiH through the Main oﬃce in Sarajevo and 7 regional oﬃces. A total of 41 long-term Coalition’s observers were hired for election observation in all constituencies in which the Local Elections were held on October 2 aimed at more eﬃcient observation of the pre-election period. Diﬀerent from the 2014 General Elections the Coalition “Pod lupom” had at the 2016 Local Elections put an additional focus on observing the election campaign of the political subjects and on monitoring the media coverage. On the Election Day the Coalition deployed 2.883 observers to 2.562 polling stations, covering every second polling station in the country or 49% out of 5.205 regular polling stations, and at 141 local election commissions, 60 mobile teams and the Call Center. Methodology of the long-term observation was improved by introduction of SMS weekly reporting, while the observation on the E-day was founded on statistically-based election observation methodology (SBO) that was developed in BiH for the first time and used by the Coalition “Pod lupom” at the 2014 General Elections.