The High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Christian Schmidt, used his powers this week and imposed changes to the BiH Election Law, two months before the elections, presenting them as a “transparency package”, which will contribute to a fairer and more honest election process.
He made the decision after a protest was held in front of the building of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) for two days in a row against the imposition of changes to the Electoral Law during the election process and in the form that has been speculated about in the media, in such a way that there is an electoral threshold of three percent when electing delegates to the House of Peoples of the Parliament of the Federation and ensuring that delegates from among the Croatian people are exclusively elected in cantons where Croats are the majority.
Amendments to the election law were published on the official website of the OHR in BiH on July 27th, when the law entered into force.
Here are five things you need to know about the changes.
-Central Election Commission (CEC) gets greater powers and stricter sanctions
According to the amendments to the Election Law, the CEC of BiH now has the authority to order the election commission, voter list center, polling committee, and counting centers to take measures to eliminate identified irregularities.
In accordance with these changes, the power of the CEC to impose a fine of up to 30.000 BAM on a political entity has been changed, which is three times higher than the highest penalty from the previous legal framework. With this change in the law, candidates will be fined from 3 to 15 thousand BAM for violations of the provisions of the law, while previously this penalty was from 1 to 5 thousand.
-Increased control of election committees.
With the amendment, the prohibitions were extended to the hitherto neglected election committees. Members of electoral committees are now prohibited from false representation on behalf of any political party, coalition, independent candidate, or list of independent candidates, as well as abuse in the work of the electoral committee in front of one political subject by fictitious representation on behalf of another political subject, to which that seat in the committee did not belong.
This amendment to the law regulates the previous practice of trading seats in electoral committees, which could not be legally sanctioned, and was the reason for the abuse of voters’ electoral will. By agreement or sale of places in polling committees, political entities previously appointed their members to these places, creating one-party polling committees in some places, which enabled absolute control of the election result.
”Abuse of the legal right to participate in the work of the electoral committee by fictitious representation is prohibited, as prescribed by the article,” is stated in the amendment to the Election Law.
-Extended prohibitions on misuse of public resources
The Election Law was amended with a new definition specifying the misuse of public funds and resources, as well as the sanctions for violations. According to this amendment, any illegal use of funds and resources of the state, entities, cantons, Brcko District, and other units of local administration and self-government at the disposal of candidates or public officials for the purposes of performing official duties is considered misuse of public funds and resources.
This also prohibits the use of means of communication, information services, office equipment of public institutions and bodies for the election campaign, as well as the use of official cars free of charge or at reduced fees for campaign activities, but does not refer to the transportation of persons who are specially protected in accordance with the law and official protection.
-Hate speech is described and regulated
”It is not allowed to use hate speech, and/or publish or use images, symbols, audio and videos, SMS messages, Internet communications, social networks, and mobile applications or other materials that can act in this way,” reads the amendment to the Election Law.
-Social media is recognized as a platform for parties
By amending the Election Law, the division of the media into electronic, online, printed, and social media was specified, through the definitions of each of them.
Electronic media are defined as public and private television and radio stations with the appropriate license of the Communications Regulatory Agency (RAK) of BiH, while printed media are understood as printed newspapers, magazines, books, and pamphlets with the aim of informing the public.
Two new divisions added to this law are online media and social media, which were not previously recognized by the law, and which election monitoring organizations presented as an important platform for monitoring the process, Detektor reports.