EU Committee of the Regions
Meeting of the Commission for Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs (CIVEX)
Monday, 11 February 2013, Brussels (Belgium)
Speaking Notes, Congress member Vincent McHugh (ILDG/Local), Councillor, Trim Town Council (Ireland)
Observation of local elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina (7 October 2013)
Dear ladies and gentlemen,
as already stated by our friend, Uno Silberg, from Estonia, 11 Congress members – together with 5 representatives of this distinguished Committee – carried out a joint mission to observe local elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina on 7 October 2012. I think I speak on behalf of the entire delegation when I say that this was a very positive experience and productive collaboration between the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and the EU Committee of the Regions – contentswise and also in terms of human relations.
It was already mentioned by my fellow Congress member Henry Feral that, while we are meeting here in Brussels, the Bureau of the Congress is holding a meeting in Andorra, the country currently chairing the Council of Europe. This is why Amy Koopmanschap, our Head of delegation and Rapporteur, cannot be here to inform you about the Report on Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is my pleasure to take her place and present to you – very briefly – the outcome of our observation mission in a nutshell – which we call our recommendations for the country.
In general, we can say that the local elections of 7 October 2012 were well-prepared, conducted in an orderly manner and organised in accordance with international standards. The Congress delegation also noted with satisfaction that the Central Election Commission of Bosnia and Herzegovina conducted an informative campaign and provided ample materials and reference texts including manuals for the staff at polling stations and election observers.
The Congress delegation was pleased to hear that there was a vigorous and competitive election campaign and less violence occurred compared to previous years. This is always a good sign for the development and consolidation of democracy in a given country.
At the same time, the Congress has identified issues which need to be addressed, such as the following:
- the relatively liberal processes for voter registration and casting of ballots: in Bosnia and Herzegovina registered voters are allowed to cast their ballot in other than their own constituency, first-time voters and “new residents” are allowed to vote even if they did not register within the period stipulated for registration: the Congress delegation thinks that this is a rather liberal approach;
- the so-called “tender ballot”-system for unconfirmed or unregistered voters in place, in particular, for first-time voters, out-of-country voters and new residents; the Congress delegation found that this system created uncertainty about voter numbers in certain areas and confusion among staff at polling stations, particularly at the vote count;
- the ubiquity of political activists at polling stations (this means that members of Polling Station Committees are proposed by political parties and these same parties also send the domestic observers); the Congress delegation believes that domestic observers should – in the first place – oversee the process and ensure pluralism;
- there is also a provision allowing certain voters of reduced capacity to be accompanied and assisted by another person: the Congress delegation is of the opinion that this could allow for potential abuse of the ballot by the “assister”.
Let me conclude by quoting the five most important recommendations spelled out by the Congress delegation; we invite the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina
1. to revise the existing system of voter registration, including the so-called tender ballot system for unconfirmed voters, in order to establish clarity and avoid confusion;
2. to take measures to professionalise the electoral process by involving more experienced, competent and well-trained election officials in the management of polling stations; in so doing, we recommend limiting party control and making better use of the know-how in election management at state level, notably the expertise of the Central Election Commission;
3. to review the provisions in place for voters who need assistance due to reduced capacity, in order to avoid potential abuse of the ballot by the assister and to make more use of the existing system of mobile voting boxes;
4. to reconsider the existing regulation allowing citizens who are not permanently resident in a municipality to take part in local elections, in order to strengthening grassroots democracy; in this respect, the Congress points out that in many Council of Europe member countries, nowadays, only the main place of residence is crucial for exercising the voting right at local level;
5. last not least, to carefully weigh the possibility of organising concurrent elections on one day, on a so-called “Super Sunday”; because, experiences of other countries where concurrent elections at different levels of government were held on one day showed that this has led to local elections being largely overshadowed by the national vote. I believe we all agree that this is something which should be avoided.
Thank you for your attention!