Non-Nationalist Voting in Bosnian Municipal Elections: Implications for Democracy and Peacebuilding

Journal article

Cobble, Margaret & Michael Pugh (2001) Non-Nationalist Voting in Bosnian Municipal Elections: Implications for Democracy and Peacebuilding, Journal of Peace Research 38 (1): 27–47.

In both the general theory of peacebuilding and the specific implementation of peace agreements, the establishment of democratic political processes and institutions is accorded a high priority by external actors in their efforts to stabilize war-torn societies. An emphasis on free elections has been especially insistent in the peacebuilding processes developed for Bosnia and Herzegovina, and was a keystone of the 1995 Dayton Agreement. This article focuses on the 1997 municipal elections because they were widely regarded as an important test of peacebuilding assumptions and because they illuminate local differentiation in non-nationalist voting. Our analysis indicates that a higher degree of optimism about the strength of non-nationalist voting may be justified than commentators have detected, especially if it allows for an ideological interpretation of the policies of former communists in Republika Srpska. Non-nationalist voting has varied in relation to the presence of ethnic Bosniacs, the population density and the mix of ethnic types. Generally, however, the municipal elections indicate that casting votes has not been a peacebuilding panacea in terms of the international organizations' strategic goal of building a unitary, self-governing, multi-ethnic state. Instead, the elections have legitimized ethnically purged constituencies and led to a flawed protectorate in which the Office of the UN Secretary-General's High Representative (OHR) and the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) have become increasingly inveigled into attempting to manipulate local politics.

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