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Address the opening of Transparency International’s conference “Integrity of the Electoral Process in BiH,”

May 21, 2021

Man speaking on video

Dobro jutro.

Pozdravljam sve prisutne. Ambassador Sattler, gospodine Blagovčanin, i poštovani gosti.

It is my pleasure to address you today and discuss the critical work that Transparency International and other civil society organizations are undertaking to improve this country’s elections.

Transparent, free, and fair elections are at the heart of every functioning democracy.  Elections give citizens the ability to advance the change they would like to see, and hold accountable their leaders who fail to deliver.

Making sure that all BiH citizens are able to exercise this right with the confidence that their vote will be counted, free of manipulation or fraud, is not only a prerequisite for real change, but a legal obligation for political leaders.

That’s why we are pleased to support organizations like Transparency International in their work.  Monitoring the administration of elections, and making sure that all parties follow the law helps ensure an even playing field.

As Transparency International and other organizations observed before and during the 2020 local elections, the legal framework governing BiH elections is in urgent need of updating.

Insufficient oversight all too often results in fraud and manipulation, allowing some to stack the deck in their favor.  The Central Election Commission (CEC), civil society organizations, and political parties all detected many such irregularities last year, which compromised the integrity of the electoral process, and reduced citizen confidence.

Fortunately, viable solutions to most of these persistent issues have been identified for some time.  The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions, Council of Europe Group of States Against Corruption (or GRECO), and the Venice Commission have come up with common-sense solutions to close these loopholes – all that is missing is the political will to implement them.

In addition to these technical changes to strengthen the election system, there must also be a good-faith political dialogue to implement the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, as well as those of the BiH Constitutional Court.  A comprehensive electoral reform package will require all three of these elements.

The U.S. Embassy and our partners welcomed the inaugural session last week of the Interagency Working Group – an institutional process tasked with producing legislative proposals to resolve these longstanding issues.

We urge them to seek counsel and recommendations from all relevant stakeholders – particularly the CEC, and civil society.  As you will see today, civil society plays a critical role in safeguarding elections.

Their experience and familiarity with weaknesses in the system have led to the identification of egregious irregularities, and will be necessary in making sure the worst loopholes and vulnerabilities are addressed.

Likewise, as the administrator of BiH’s elections, the CEC will be the institution responsible for implementing any legislative changes agreed to this year, and must therefore be part of the discussion as well.

Electoral reform is an issue that affects everyone.  The democratic power of each BiH citizen’s vote in next year’s elections and onward is at stake.

Ultimately, political will is what’s needed for real change this year.  The reforms necessary for more functional BiH institutions, and progress along the European path are no mystery.

We applaud those political leaders who have supported efforts to use this non-election year as a vital window for the economic, rule of law, and electoral reforms that will help BiH recover from the pandemic, fight corruption, and advance along the European path.

However, there are also those leaders who consistently obstruct such reforms in service of protecting their own interests.  The best time for reform is always the present.  These leaders should be asked, “If not now, then when?” and be held fully accountable at the ballot box.

Thank you again to Transparency International for their excellent work, and the opportunity to speak today.

I hope this conference results in concrete proposals on how to move forward and help BiH move in the right direction.  Hvala.