Dáil Éireann - Volume 480 - 30 September, 1997

Written Answers - Bosnian Elections.

70. Mr. Yates asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the recent local elections in Bosnia; and his views on the future for peace in the region. [14611/97]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. R. Burke): The municipal elections in Bosnia and Hercegovina which were held on 13 and 14 September, having been postponed twice last year, must be seen as a significant achievement when viewed in [1016] the light of frequently imperfect local conditions and the present stage of the peace process. They went ahead on this occasion despite threats of boycott from two of the major parties. These threats were withdrawn because of the strong stance of the international community.

The international community had entrusted the OSCE with the task of supervising the preparations and the running of the elections. This required the provision of considerable financial and personnel resources by the international community to the OSCE and Ireland made a significant contribution in this regard, including some 80 election observers and IR£150,000.

The elections provided the citizens of Bosnia and Hercegovina, including refugees and displaced persons, with the opportunity to reassert their rights in their original home localities, and to voice their rejection of ethnic cleansing.

Although the elections had to be held in a difficult, post-conflict situation, the experience of the general elections of 1996 led to the establishment of new electoral rolls with stringent registration procedures in order to combat fraud. In addition, political parties found guilty of offences against the new rules and regulations were penalized; polling hours were extended and the number of polling stations reduced so that international supervisors could be present throughout the period in the maximum number of locations.

The large number of citizens who re-registered and the very high turnout for the polls right across the country reflected the wish of the citizens to exercise their fundamental democratic right. The fact that the elections passed off without any major incident must be attributed in part to the effective security measures put in place by SFOR, but also reflected the wish of the electorate that the elections be carried out in a peaceful and orderly way. The large number of new parties and politicial alliances which participated is evidence of a serious attempt to escape from the monolithic ethnic blocks, thereby offering a possibility of more democratic political activity in the future.

The elections were held in 135 municipalities and the votes are still being counted in a central location, in what I understand is an especially meticulous but lengthy process. This means that it will be some time before the final results are available, and even longer before they are all certified. It may also be expected that the implementation of the results in some locations may require particular efforts, including the support of the international community.

While there should be no illusions about the work still to be accomplished across a broad spectrum of areas, the installation of duly elected local government is an indispensable part of the process to restore democratic institutions.

At the same time, the fact that other key aspects of the Dayton Agreements remain largely unimplemented — notably the establishment of conditions which will permit the return of refugees and the bringing to justice of indicted war [1017] criminals — means that the international presence in Bosnia and Hercegovina is likely to need to be extended beyond next year if the current peace is to be maintained.