With the ballots counted, the presidents named, and the parliamentary coalitions in the making, we can begin to make notes about the future of Bosnia.
The political system remains mired in Dayton Accords divisions, and political Islam may – may – be on the rise.
The OSCE election observation mission consisted of a professional staff and nearly 300 observers, most of whom were in-country for one week or less, but dozens of whom served for several weeks. Together, these observers generated data for a Statement of Preliminary Findings the day after the elections. A final report is due in December.
The short-term observers (of which I was one), mostly from the United States and Europe, were briefed in Sarajevo on several items before their deployment to the regions. Based on these briefings, on the Preliminary Report, and on my own conversations with Bosnians that week, several tentative conclusions can be drawn. *Judgments here are my own and not those of OSCE unless otherwise identified.*
On elections and elections law
– The political system remains mired in the Dayton Accords era of ethnic division. However useful this was to end the war, it now retards political development. The governing institutional structures, political parties, and media are still divided by ethnic identity. An OSCE media analyst judged that television and social media are the most important avenues for campaigning.
– The Office of the High Representative – an EU representative with potentially strong powers – still exists. According to one OSCE official, OHR’s role has been reduced to “sword of Damocles” guidance for Bosnia’s parties and governments, and the position itself may soon be abolished.
– The results of the election were not essentially predetermined, according to an OSCE political analyst. The outcomes were not certain in part because there was little high-quality polling done, and in part because of the mixed blessing of incumbency. Two examples: the Bosniak/Bosnian Muslim son of the former Bosnian president was re-elected, but the Social Democratic Party fell from 26 percent of the parliamentary vote in 2010 to 10 percent in 2014.
– Officials and voters discuss politics differently. One OSCE official touted education as the key ingredient for further political development. But in conversations I had with several young voters, the key issues were jobs and health care, and they said the key obstacles to addressing those were corruption and the persistence of the politics of ethnic divisions.
– OSCE concluded that the process of voting itself was conducted reasonably well. Many more complaints were lodged against the counting process. With some colorful exceptions, this does not seem to be primarily a function of fraud. The counting process itself was complex and long. Local commissioners began work at 6 am to open the polls at 7 am, and manned the polls until 7 pm. Detailed closing procedures then preceded the actual counting. In the polling center I observed, 350 voters completed four ballots each. Under the watchful eye of about 10 party observers, counting the ballots was led by a knowledgeable and respected commissioner. Still, it took more than six hours, with another hour to complete the forms. It was after 3 am before we headed to the Municipal Center where ballots, ballot boxes and counting sheets from around the region were being collected for tabulation. Even at that hour, we were the 7th of 33 polling stations to report. The counting process, conducted by people working nearly 24 hours – not intent to defraud the counting process – may have been the chief culprit.
On political Islamism
– The political role of Islamism, not formally commented upon in the OSCE preliminary report, seems to remain low. One international official told me that there is a small but not significant Islamist feeling – partially for religious reasons and partially as a result of the bad economy, lack of jobs, etc. There is, he continued, the presumption of increasing Turkish and Arab money in politics and the economy, but there are no details and he declined to speculate further.
– Asked specifically about the number of Bosnians leaving to join ISIS, an international official said there were no clear figures. He estimated that the number might be about 150 people, and that they did not seem to come from any one town or region.
– News of the attraction of al-Nusra or ISIS has appeared in various media, such as:
— ABC News, on ISIS recruiting in the Balkans, October 2014
— Daily Mirror, on two Austrian teenage girls, the children of Bosnian immigrants, October 2014
— PBS and Associated Press, on the arrest of 16 alleged militant recruiters in Bosnia, Sept 2014
— Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, on radical Islamists in north east and north west Bosnia, March 2013