Bosnia’s peace envoy imposes ‘integrity package’ to reform election law

By Thomson Reuters Mar 26, 2024 | 12:56 PM

SARAJEVO (Reuters) – Bosnia’s international peace overseer on Tuesday imposed changes to the country’s election law to ensure its integrity, including barring convicted war criminals from running, ahead of a vote in October.

The former German politician Christian Schmidt said the aim of the “integrity package” was to restore voter trust through measures such as electronic scanning, counting of ballots and voter identification, as well as making election committees more professional.

The changes will also increase security over the handling of election materials before and after voting, and action to prevent voter manipulation.

Previous Bosnian elections have been marred by reports of irregularity and fraud, and international observers have for a decade been urging reforms.

Schmidt said in the light of Bosnia’s bid to start membership talks with the European Union, he was making up for local politicians’ failure to act.

In December, he called on Bosnia’s rival Serb, Croat and Bosniak leaders to change the election law in accordance with international guidelines to ensure a transparent, fair and credible electoral process.

The Croat leaders made the changes conditional on a wider reform of the presidential vote, meaning only Croats would vote for their candidates, and not all people living in the Bosniak-Croat Federation, a Bosnian region which they share with Bosniaks.

The Serbs were also unenthusiastic about the changes, with their nationalist leader Milorad Dodik saying on Tuesday that the Serb Republic, a Bosnian region that he presides over, would not accept the changes imposed by Schmidt.

The Bosnian Serbs do not recognise Schmidt as the High Representative, saying that he was not endorsed by the U.N. Security Council.

The enforcement of the changes marks the second time Schmidt, who has sweeping powers as international High Representative in Bosnia, has intervened in the country’s electoral legislation.

He changed the election law in 2022 to overcome deadlock in the formation of a regional government after the parliamentary and presidential polls.

Schmidt said that his decision will fulfil one of 14 priorities set by the European Commission for Bosnia to start membership negotiations with the European Union, after the EU Council last week invited the Balkan country to start talks.

(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Barbara Lewis)