Date: Mon, 7 Jun 1999 21:29:43 -0500 (CDT)
From: Greek Helsinki Monitor <>
Subject: [balkanhr] Local Elections in B&H: Small Country—Many Parties
Article: 66750
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Local Elections in B & H: Small Country—Many Parties

By Senka Kurtovic, Alternative Information Network (Athens), 26 May 1999

On Tuesday, the mission of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe made it public that 72 political parties and 10 independent candidates had filed their candidacy in the forthcoming local elections in B&H. By 21 May, the deadline set by OSCE, registration forms were submitted by 27 political parties and 7 independent candidates who are either running in the elections for the first time or who have already participated but have not won a single mandate. The political parties and candidates who won at least one mandate in the previous elections only had their candidacy confirmed for the forthcoming elections. There will be 45 such political parties and three independent candidates.

There has never been a smaller country with more participants—those well-informed would say. People in the United States of America, except for the Democrats and the Republicans, rarely have an opportunity to vote for an independent candidate, and almost never for a third party. In Bosnia & Herzegovina, filing candidacies, establishment of political parties, participation of independent candidates, has almost become a mania ever since the first elections after Dayton in 1996. The first postwar elections were in a way a bait for numerous idle persons with no jobs, certain incomes, permanent profession, to become politicians. They were greatly encouraged in their intention by the OSCE mission which for those, 1996 elections, gave one thousand green banknotes to each participant in order to support their efforts. The OSCE took pains to organize seminars, lectures, lessons of good behavior and all kinds of programs for the participants, which usually ended with large lunches and cocktail parties. For many of those who were quick-witted and ran in the first elections, these ends of the meetings were the nicest part of the election campaign. For others, the money given by OSCE as support and short excursions around Bosnia were the reason for them to decide to start having politicians' worries in 1997.

But, the elections that followed showed that the foreigners were not exactly ignorant and that they quickly looked through the existing manners. On the local level, a number of small parties and candidates appeared, who just needed five thousand or double that figure to address their applications to OSCE. Disappointment reached a climax when information arrived from the Mission that there would be no support in the form of cash money. The OSCE has continued assisting the participants, but in a different way. It financed printing of their propagandist material—posters, announcements, advertisements, paid the media for their promotions, financed other technical details when necessary. “A candidate—participant in 1996 elections, as a sign of gratitude, probably because we had given him money for support, sent a parcel addressed to the then head of the Mission ambassador Robert Frowick. When we opened the parcel, we were in for a surprise. This man from Tuzla had sent the ambassador a bottle of cologne, deodorant, diaries and bold-point pens and a book of his printed with the money we had given for the campaign. The ambassador nicely returned it to his address. This was a sign that we had to change the manner of financing”, an employee of OSCE says.

It is possible that the decision to stop giving money was an indication that many would give up on the difficult job and concern for the people and devote themselves to a more stable business. Much easier than politics. But, as it is generally known, everybody in Bosnia & Herzegovina is a perfect expert for football, television and politics, this year's elections showed that there are still many who wish to be politicians. That is why there are so many registered. The voters are going to have a hard time again. Apart from the regular and experienced candidates they have in front of them 27 new political parties. What new they will have to offer is still uncertain, but by their very names (Democratic Party of Disabled Persons of B&H, Congress People's Party for Protection of Human Rights, Liberal Social Party, Independent Party for Human Rights of B&H, New Workers' Party of RS, Workers' Party of RS…), it can be concluded that everything is “deja vu”. Again if judging by the names, there are also certain new ethnic parties (Croat Christian Democrats, Party of United Muslims of the Republic of B&H, Serb Party of Republika Srpska, Party of Serb Unity of RS), but there are also those whose aspiration is to change everything, like the Party of Serb Awareness, or the Ravna Gora People's Chetnik Movement of Srpska, which would not change anything, but on the contrary, return to the past.

Among the immense number of those who will “bomb” the people of Bosnia & Herzegovina with their voices, pictures and messages this summer, there are also those who were in the past years promising peace, order, work and prosperity; those who were warning us that nothing would come out of that and those who promised nothing, but always won votes. From OSCE Mission they are persistently complaining and warning against the increasing number of voters who abstain, disinterestedness of the citizens of B&H for everything that is happening before, during and after the elections. But it is no wonder. When a gown-up is offered 72 parties, if he is not a “professional” voter who always knows whose name to circle on the ballot, he is faced with the dilemma—can a country such as B&H have that many “capable” teams who vow that they can change everything, but in fact nothing is changing. When in the end one sums up how many members there are in these 72 parties, it turns out that the people of this country do nothing but pursue politics, but also that there is no use of it.

The applications have been duly filled out. Everybody is waiting for the signal for the start. In OSCE they are still not sure whether the elections will be schedule for this or next year. This is the question which still needs to be discussed mostly because of the influence of the crisis in FR Yugoslavia on this space. At this moment nobody knows exactly what will happen. And the parties are beginning their preparations. And then there will be coalitions, unions, associations, alliances…