On September 12 and 13, 1998, elections were held in Bosnia-Herzegovina for offices ranging from the collective state presidency to several local counsils. These elections were the latest in what have been an angoign series of elections since the Dayton Agreement ended the Bosnian conflict in December 1995. Like those in 1996 and 1997, these elections were also administered by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) through a Provisional Election Council (PEC). Continuous elections, if held in as free and fair a manner as possible, have been viewed by the international community as a means to bring stability and recovery to a country divided by extreme nationalist political leaders, particularly among the Serb population, many of whom remain in positions of power or influence.
There were few of disruptions during the two days of voting. Unfortunately, in what were otherwise well administered elections, there were major, albeit unintentional, flaws in the OSCE-prepared voter registration lists, preventing or making it difficult for many citizens to vote and encouraging local suspicions of international manipulation. Nevertheless, international observers deployed by the OSCE concluded that the will of the people was generally reflected in the results. These results did not bring any major change in Bosnia’s political leadership, which remains largely in the handes of political parties representing the three major ethnic groups – the Bosniacs, Serbs, and Croats. They did, however, continue the trend of previous elections in bringing greater diversity to Bosnian politics. Among the Bosniac population in the Bosnian Federation, the opposition which promoted a multi-ethnic Bosnian society did make some gains, while among Bosnian Croats there was an advance in the simple fact that some serious alternatives existed. In Republika Srpska, however, nationalist sentiment showed a resiliency which the international community found disappointing given the major effort over the past year to promote political moderation. This was especially reflected in the defeat of the incumbent President of Republika Srpska, Biljana Plavsic.
Overall, the 1998 elections may represent one small but definite step toward eventual political reunification of Bosnia’s two entities and social reintegration after the devastating conflict. On the other hand, such incremental change may be insufficient to counter the solidification of the country’s division. It is uncertain whether time is working for, or against, Bosnia’s future as state. The elections have made certain, however, that structural change in the electoral and even the political process – promoting a social consensus across ethnic lines – is now needed. Within the next year, the international community must work to see if the Bosnian people themselves are prepared for such a step.