Srebrenica and Stolac, Site of Contentious Local Election in Bosnia-Herzegovina

A first-person account from an on-the-ground Navanti Analyst

It’s been 21 years since the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995 that signaled the end of war in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH). And on 02 October 2012, the local and municipal elections were held, the first major election in which a generation born after the war could vote. Yet, even this new generation of voters could not make changes to the country’s entrenched ethnically based political parties.

I traveled around different parts of the country in the lead up to local and municipal elections in both entities of BiH, the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (FBiH) and Republika Srpska (RS). With a campaign characterized by voter apathy driven by political corruption and nationalistic campaign rhetoric, election results in the politically and ethnic tension locations of Stolac and Srebrenica, highlighted BiH’s ongoing difficulties promoting democracy and the rule of law. Talking to citizens in both the RS and FBiH prior to and after the elections, the problems seen in Stolac and Srebrenica are certainly the ugly side of Bosnia’s path toward democracy. Many voters were turned off by the nationalistic rhetoric among political parties. Some refused to vote or even talk about politics but instead focused on the country’s high unemployment rate.

In Stolac, a small city located in southern BiH divided between Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and Croats, problems started on election day when local election officials, representing Bosnian Croat political parties, tried to replace Bosniak poll workers at polling stations. The Bosniak candidate for mayor, Salmir Kaplan, displeased by the replacements, physically assaulted the head of the local election administration, Ivan Peric, a Croat. Later in the day, it was reported that masked men stole voting materials. The Central Election Commission of BiH and local election officials responded by suspended voting.

A resident of Stolac told Navanti, “It seems that the elections in Stolac will be held again [likely on 20 November 2016] but, unfortunately, it seems that the political parties are controlling what will be decided rather than the Central Election Committee.”

In Srebrenica, site of the infamous 1995 Srebrenica genocide where 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed, Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Muslims split their votes along ethnic lines. According to the final results, Srebrenica elected its first Bosnian Serb mayor in a decade, despite allegations of voter fraud. Meanwhile, the Party of Democratic Action, the major Bosniak party of BiH, has questioned the legality of the election.

A local analyst in Tuzla noted, “I was talking to people from Srebrenica and they were saying Bosnian Serbs from Srebrenica brought Serbs from other municipalities and registered them so they could vote, while Bosnian Muslims blamed themselves because they did not do the same.” These allegations were repeated in some media reporting.

The contested elections in Stolac and Srebrenica suggest nationalist rhetoric among ethnic tensions continue to dominate politics in BiH. Without a stronger international presence pressing BiH politicians to counter their nationalist rhetoric, BiH is unlikely to address the greater problems plaguing its nation: widespread unemployment and a stagnant economy.