The BiH Election Law defines election campaign as a period of 30 days before the Election Day in which political subjects present their programs and candidates for the elections to the voters and the public. The election campaign for the 2022 General Elections started on September 2, 2022, which means that any paid public advertising, as well as all pre-election activities of political subjects are prohibited until this date, except for the holding of internal gatherings of authorities and statutory bodies of political subjects within the period between the day when elections are announced and the day of official start of the election campaign.
It was observed, as in previous election cycles, that a significant number of political subjects had conducted election campaign before its official start, particularly in the segment of paid advertising on the social media platforms. The Coalition documented 157 individual cases of unlawful paid advertising by 33 political subjects and/or their candidates.
In addition to paid advertising on the social media platforms it was documented that some political subjects started to conducts activities on the ground that are de facto election campaign activities, and do not relate to internal activities of the political subject. In these cases the so-called grey zone of the BiH Election Law, which explicitly prohibits only paid advertising before the official start of the election campaign, is used to a great extent. The current statutory solutions neither recognize sanctions nor prohibit all of these other activities of election campaigning, where the 30-day campaigning period is somewhat made senseless as the campaign in practice lasts far longer. The political subjects inform the public and the voters about these activities through regular media reporting, and unpaid posts on private profiles or profiles of the political subject on different social media platforms. Observers of the Coalition “Pod lupom” had documented 484 such cases in 67 municipalities and cities in BiH (including the previously presented 157 cases of unlawful paid advertising). The analysis of reports on premature campaigning, which is prohibited by the law, shows that the highest number of reports relate to the political subjects SDA (65), SNSD (50), SDP BiH (41), PDP (20) and Naša stranka (16)
Continuing the practice which was started during the election cycle of the 2020 Local Elections, the Central Election Commission of BiH fined several political subjects and/or their candidates for paid advertising on the social network Facebook in the time prior to starting the election campaign, including cases of this irregularity reported by the Coalition “Pod lupom”. According to the information available to the Coalition, the BiH CEC imposed 37,000 KM in monetary sanctions until September 5, 2022, on various political entities and/or their candidates for this violation of the Election Law of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is not the final amount due to subsequent procedures as well as pending procedures.
In its Final Report of the Election Observation Mission, ODIHR also states that only paid pre-election campaign in electronic and print media have been banned so far, and that many entities started the campaign several months earlier, due to which possible irregularities mostly remained unresolved due to the inapplicability of the relevant bans pertaining to this period.
Referring to the legal changes from July 2022, which prohibit the misuse of public resources and public officials subordinate to the candidate, the misuse of public premises, communication and transport services to run the campaign, and running campaigns by elected officials during activities organized by the public institutions, ODIHR stated: “while these improvements are welcomed, the ban still only applies to the official one-month period of the campaign”.
In this context, the Coalition “Pod lupom” states that it is necessary to specify the responsibility for political subjects conducting an unpaid election campaign prior to the beginning of the period established by the law, and that it is necessary to review and additionally specify the legal provisions pertaining to the abuse of public resources.