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Balkan Report: September 17, 1997

17 September 1997, Volume 1, Number 8

Elections End, Troubles Begin. Local elections took place across Bosnia-Herzegovina on September 13-14. The real difficulties, however, will begin once the votes are counted in about a week's time.

New rules governing voter registration made it relatively difficult for the nationalists to carry out the widespread fraud they did in 1996. Under the old rules, it was easy for nationalists to pack the voting rolls of any given town by simply having prospective voters declare that they eventually intended to live there.

In last weekend's vote, by contrast, some 90 percent of the registered voters were signed up to cast their ballots in the place where they had actually lived before the war and where they hope to live again.

The problem is that most of the refugees come from places now controlled by people of another nationality. Most of those refugees consequently voted by absentee ballot. While international officials generally called the latest vote a success, they also had to acknowledge that the new local authorities often hindered those refugees plucky enough to try to go home to vote in person.

The big question is what will happen if and when all those refugee votes produce town councils dominated by a nationality that formerly made up the majority in towns where another nationality now rules. If the current authorities would not gladly let the former inhabitants come back to vote, can those same authorities be expected to hand over power once the votes are counted?

If their track record in implementing the Dayton agreement is anything to go by, one cannot, in fact, expect the current authorities to yield power quickly or peacefully. Similarly, however, one cannot expect much effective pressure from the international community to force them to do so. The result is likely to be a continued ethnically-based partition, with town councils in-exile representing communities across the republic.

A Look at How the Nationalists Manipulate the Media. When the final returns come in, they are likely to show a victory for the three ruling nationalist parties. RFE/RL pointed out on September 9 that the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), and the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) all subscribe to the undemocratic maxim: "one people, one party, one leader."

One reason the nationalists continue to win elections is that they are able to control and manipulate most of the electronic media. In one example of such manipulation, the HDZ in Mostar sought to ban a television spot by one non-nationalist party, not only locally but across Bosnia. The HDZ charged that the spot encouraged Muslim nationalism by showing a map of Bosnia in green, the Islamic color. But RFE/RL debunked the HDZ's charge by pointing out that the map was blue and white and not green at all.

The Serbian nationalists in Pale avoided giving air time to other views by simply refusing to broadcast materials sent to them by the international community's representatives. RFE/RL also pointed out that television in areas controlled by the Muslim-dominated Bosnian army generally presents only the views of the SDA.