Sarajevo, 23 September 1996 (RFE/RL) - The Organization For Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has hailed Bosnia Herzegovina's first post-war national elections as a sign of the Bosnian people's commitment to live in peace. But behind the official pronouncements from the organization charged with overseeing the vote, RFE/RL's correspondent in Sarajevo reports that three questions remain.
Countless Bosnians were unable to vote because of what the OSCE described as a "minor technical problem" with finding potential voters' names on voter registration lists. The OSCE has said the number of people who would fall into that category is in the hundreds, but critics say the real number is far higher.
In the final hours of voting, the OSCE said the Provisional Election Commission (PEC) was looking into the matter and that it hoped the affected Bosnians would eventually be allowed to vote. But the balloting ended with no solution in sight. And it looks as if these people were simply lost in the process.
The OSCE said it viewed Bosnia's national elections as perhaps "the most complicated this century." With more than 30 political parties and nearly 3,500 candidates in a country where media are tightly controlled, most people were confused.
Even the PEC seemed unable to coordinate responses to basic questions such as voter turnout, movement across the inter-entity boundary line (IEBL), and first results. In releasing first results, the PEC changed its figures three times before settling on a set of numbers, but not before most reporters had already filed their story and left the media center.
The preliminary figures on voter movement across the inter-entity boundary line (IEBL) are hardly firm. The OSCE has never confirmed specific numbers, other than to say that they were lower than anticipated. Several leading OSCE electoral officials, from the Deputy Chairman of the PEC, Sir Kenneth Scott, on down, said that in their view the numbers could possibly represent the fact that people felt the upcoming municipal elections were more important.
Critics charge that many people were simply too fearful to cross over into "enemy" territory despite the heavy presence of NATO-led peace implementation forces (IFOR), International Police Task Force (IPTF) and local police. Some observers have suggested that perhaps the OSCE should have arranged for a second day of voting to pull in any late voters who were waiting out the security situation.
Freedom of movement was generally seen as the cornerstone of fairness of the elections. But in the final hours leading up to the vote, it was the one condition proving the most difficult to fulfill.
In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL, the top OSCE official in Bosnia, Ambassador Robert Frowick, said that no date had been set for the municipal elections. But Frowick said he hoped they could be held while there was still such a large international presence, as security will again be a big concern.
The OSCE says electoral complaints are already coming in. Officials decline to give any numbers, but say most deal with problems with the voter registration lists.
Complaints concerning the counting process must be submitted immediately to the Chairman of the Local Election Commission (LEC), which must issue a ruling within 24 hours. Complaints against the decisions of the LEC may be submitted to the Election Appeals Sub-Commission.
But it is a long and complicated process. And that is exactly how senior Provisional Election Commission officials described tabulation nearly 48 hours after the election. They said the most they could hope for were "reasonably" free and fair elections.
The final question that many ask is whether this means the best Bosnia can now hope for is a "reasonably" peaceful future.