There is no single definition of electoral violence or generally accepted terminology on this topic. Electoral violence is separated from other forms of political violence by a combination of timing and motive. The time aspect relates to violence carried out during the election period. The objective of electoral violence is to influence the electoral process and in extension its outcome.
There are different categories of electoral violence, based on who the perpetrators are and why the violence occurs, such as: electoral violence between parties, electoral violence of parties against voters, electoral violence of parties against the state, electoral violence of voters against other voters; electoral violence of the state against voters, etc.
The list of possible causes of electoral violence is long. At the most basic level, electoral violence is used to maintain or gain the power by force. Cases where political actors (such as candidates, supporters, protesters, organized crime groups, etc.) use violent tactics include:
- Seeking an electoral advantage – usually an incentive for those running in high-stakes elections. Such acts of violence are directed against political competitors and their supporters and may include threats, coercion, intimidation, assassinations, etc.
- Disruption of elections – often an incentive for non-contestants. They may be excluded from the electoral process (disenfranchised groups) or they have a special interest in having the elections spoiled or not held at all. Violent tactics can include activities targeting electoral actors, events and materials.
- Preventing of election manipulations – is an incentive for those who share the opinion that the elections were manipulated or rigged. Electoral processes can be designed and implemented in a way that favors one electoral contestant over another. Parties and individuals who feel that the process is being manipulated to their detriment can take action to end such practices, even by using violent means. In addition to opposition parties, protesters may include CSOs and other social groups and individuals who believe that they are exercising their legitimate rights. Violent acts are often directed against government buildings and offices.
- Violence in response to initial violence is also a likely development in all of the above- mentioned scenarios. Even the most righteous protests can involve violent episodes because victims of violence also respond with violence.
- Violence against women is an important feature in all the above-mentioned cases, often motivated by the desire to punish women for participating in the electoral process because their participation threatens the dominance of the male power structure.
In a deeper sense, the consequences of electoral violence may include the following:
- Undermined civic and political rights and human suffering – Ranging from disenfranchisement of citizens or groups to vote and compete to the psychological, physical and sexual violence that certain groups may suffer, with short and long-term consequences for victims and their families and communities.
- Reducing the trust in democratic processes and institutions – Electoral violence creates repressive and undemocratic power structures and undermines the quality of democracy both directly (repression/killing of voters, candidates, etc.) and indirectly (limited inclusive participation), as well as through the public perception on legitimacy. In some contexts, elections have already become synonymous for trouble and danger, which implies a negative effect on trust in democratic processes and institutions.
- Economic Implications – Elections are the biggest and the most serious administrative undertaking in democratic societies, and consequently the costs associated with elections can represent a huge financial burden. In some cases, governments are unable to finance elections and depend on international electoral assistance. In addition, electoral competition and election observation involve significant costs for political parties, domestic and international election observation groups. Electoral violence will not only waste these resources, but will additionally cause the destruction of local communities and infrastructure with numerous negative economic and development consequences (direct and indirect).
When we talk about electoral violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it could be said that electoral violence occurs in different forms and to different extents. One of the first forms of electoral violence in BiH, in the context of the past two election cycles and electoral violence, which is defined as electoral violence of parties against the state, is the obstruction of elections, which is reflected in attempts to block and/or postpone regular elections (both through political disagreements and through creating obstacles to finance the elections), which is why the OHR intervened in the period before the 2022 General Elections. This is followed by the attempts of political subjects to maintain the status quo when it comes to the electoral process, which is why every attempt pertaining to electoral reform fails when it comes to the BiH Parliament. So in this way, changes to the Electoral Law that would improve the electoral process and restore citizens’ confidence in the elections in BiH failed to occur. As a particularly worrying aspect, and one of the forms of electoral violence against the voters themselves, is that proven discrimination against citizens on the basis of ethnicity and place of residence still exists.
More classic cases of electoral violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina occur in the form of seeking an electoral advantage by those participating in the election race, by applying the most used technique to discredit a political competitor or classic violence, harassment and intimidation. For the 2022 General Elections, the Coalition “Pod lupom” recorded inappropriate speech, content or speech that can encourage religious, national or bigotry on other grounds, most often belonging to a political option, in 45 cases in 23 municipalities/cities. Most of the cases refer to the latter, extremely inappropriate speech or bigotry based on political affiliation where, especially on social networks, through bots, fake profiles and the like, a lot of effort is invested in defaming candidates or political opponents. The international observation mission of the Office for Democracy and Human Rights (ODIHR) also recorded cases of inflammatory talk, as well as several isolated incidents of violence and harassment in Goražde, Cazin and Kakanj.
One of the forms of electoral violence against voters are various pressures on voters, by which political subjects try to gain an advantage in the election race by using various techniques. The Coalition “Pod lupom” recorded various examples of how to introduce rights for different categories and/or the provision of one-time forms of assistance to the citizens on different grounds: single financial sums to pensioners, persons with disabilities, civilian victims of war, beneficiaries of veteran’s benefits, distribution of basic grocery items, assistance to young people, etc. all the mentioned forms of assistance are realized only until the Election Day. In addition, ODIHR recorded cases of pressure on public sector employees to participate in pre-election events organized by actual officials or forcing them not to be engaged in activities of opposition parties. Such cases raise concerns about voters’ ability to vote in a free atmosphere without fear of retaliation.
Due to all above-mentioned and various forms of electoral violence in the electoral process in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Coalition “Pod lupom” is of the opinion that it is necessary to continue to work intensively so to improve the electoral process, which includes the treatment of various forms of electoral violence by the Election Law of BiH, in order to prevent and minimize similar occurrences in the future. This implies the strengthening of the election administration, which have the most important role for the establishment of credible elections free from electoral violence, the strengthening the CSOs that observe electoral process and identify cases of electoral violence and report them to the competent authorities, as well as the strengthening and stronger involvement of relevant police and judicial structures in investigations and criminal prosecutions, where applicable.