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The OSCE and their role
in the upcoming elections

By Sgt. William Wilczewski
First published in
SFOR Informer #83, March 15, 2000

Sarajevo - The OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) is a regional security organisation whose 55 participating States are from Europe, Central Asia and North America. They have been established as a primary instrument for early warning, conflict prevention, crisis management, and post-conflict rehabilitation under Chapter VIII of the Charter of the United Nations.

The OSCE approach to security is comprehensive and co-operative. It addresses a wide range of security-related issues including arms control, preventive diplomacy, confidence and security building measures, human rights, election monitoring, and economic and environmental security.

All OSCE participating states have equal status, and decisions are based on consensus.

They are made up of negotiating and decision-making bodies which include the Permanent Council, Senior Council, Economic Forum, Ministerial Council, and Summit Meetings of Heads of State.

The OSCE is playing a major role in the creation of a stable, peaceful, and democratic Bosnia and Hercegovina (BiH). The mandate of the OSCE mission to BiH, which was established Dec. 18, 1995, includes promoting democratic values, monitoring, furthering the development of human rights, organising and supervising elections, as well as implementing arms control and security-building measures.

With April's BiH elections just around the corner, the OSCE is taking a very active role in ensuring all goes well during the process. "Our message to the citizens of BiH today is simple," said Ambassador Robert Barry, OSCE Head of Mission in BiH in a Feb. 23 press release. "Elections can and do create change, as was demonstrated recently in Croatia. If voters want change, they need to make their voices heard by voting. We have provided the voter with new tools - such as the ability to select the candidates they think are best suited to represent them, rather than leaving this decision to party leaders. The daily life of BiH citizens will be affected by these choices for the next four years. Come out and vote for your future, and for the future of your children."

Approximately 2.5 million citizens are eligible to cast ballots in the April 8 elections, which will be BiH's second round of municipal elections since the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords in December 1995. The previous round was held in September 1997.

The most significant innovation in the rules and regulations for the municipal elections is the introduction of the open list voting system. Unlike the closed list system used in previous elections in BiH, the open list system allows voters to choose not only among different party or coalition lists, but also among individual candidates.

"The open list system places more decision-making power in the hands of voters," said Barry, "but it will only be effective if voters actually make use of the option to vote for individual candidates." He added that one of the key priorities of the OSCE's voter education effort will be to explain to voters what the open list system is, how to use it, and why it is important.

Barry also reminded political parties, coalitions, candidates, and their supporters of their obligation to respect the Electoral Code of Conduct during the campaign period. Among other things, the Code requires parties, candidates, and their supporters to refrain from using inflammatory or hate language, to respect the right of other parties and candidates to campaign freely, and to observe a 24-hour campaign silence period prior to the opening of polls.

New representatives will be elected in April for 145 municipalities in BiH, as well as for the City Council of Mostar. Sixty-eight political parties are taking part in the elections, along with 18 independent candidates. Seven coalitions have also been formed. In total, approximately 21,000 candidates are competing for slightly more than 3,300 elected offices.

In conclusion, Barry encouraged all political parties and candidates to use the campaign period to engage in a substantive discussion about local problems and local solutions. He called upon parties and candidates not to dwell on the past, but to talk about issues that matter most to people at a local level, such as education, housing and property, the transparency and efficiency of local government services, and the role of women and youth in local political life.