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Bosnia: Doubts Surround Aftermath Of Elections

Prague, 24 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Ten days after Bosnia's first post-war vote, the populace still awaits preliminary final official results. The ten-day marker was supposed to coincide with the overall certification of the election process by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Instead, it is highlighting the increasing doubt surrounding the integrity of the vote and, in turn, the OSCE, which oversaw the controversial poll.

The doubt stems in part from an improbably high voter turn-out and recent reports of lax supervision at polling stations. The problems have led the OSCE to recount a large portion of the vote, after detecting what some are calling "major errors" by locally-staffed counting houses.

Raz Bazala, an OSCE spokesperson in Sarajevo, told RFE/RL the OSCE hopes to have preliminary, final results for all six races by today, and would then attempt to validate the final results through a series of independent reports. Bazala said he did not know what range of possible error might be found.

"I think the results will leave us comfortable," he said.

Asked to respond to the growing criticism against OSCE handling of the election, Bazala said he thought the trouble originated with what he called "a numbers problem."

Bazala told our correspondent that going into the election, the OSCE was using a potential electorate figure of 2.9 million, based on United Nations' figures. However, he said it was discovered that this figure did not take into account war refugees who did not register to vote, and hundreds of thousands of other registered voters, who, in fact, did not vote. He said the U.N. figure also did not take into account war losses, such as those sustained through death or disappearance.

In using the 2.9 million potential electorate number, the result led to initial turn-out figures where more ballots were reported cast than potential voters.

"The discrepancies cast serious doubt on the validity of the elections," said one independent monitoring group.

The OSCE revised its estimate of the total electorate to about 3.5 million, enabling a fair level of "comfort" with the most recent results, said Bazala. Critics say the OSCE adopted the new number, much like the old, without producing any concrete documentation or rationale.

In a recent report, The International Crisis Group (ICG) said that even with the raised estimate, turnout would still have been over 90 percent -- a threshold historically equaled only in the one-party elections of former communist countries. Turnout in Bosnia's 1990 presidential elections was 74 percent. That was before scores of people died or disappeared and before 2.5 million people were displaced.

The ICG has said that if the elections are certified, "the international community will have seriously undermined its credibility."

Bazala said the OSCE was "basically working with an unknown number."

"The OSCE locked itself into using the (U.N.) number, which was really no more valid than anything we had," said Bazala.

He added that there was a great deal of pressure in the early hours following the vote to rush out first results. But he rejected suggestions of continued pressure to press forward with the process.

Western news reports quote diplomats as saying certification is pre-ordained from the U.S. government -- the author of the peace process -- which wants to set the stage for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Bosnia before the U.S. presidential election November 5.