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Call for Recount of Ballots Cast in Bosnia Rejected

Balkans: Arm of European group that oversaw elections says perception of fraud must be dispelled. But its ruling is ignored.


VIENNA — The election process in Bosnia-Herzegovina was assailed Friday when the judicial arm of the international organization in charge of the voting called for a complete recount because of implausibly high turnout figures.

Only a recount will dispel the perception of fraud, the election appeals subcommission said in a three-page ruling, issued in response to studies that suggested there were more votes than voters in the Sept. 14 elections. But the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which organized and supervised the elections, rejected the need for a recount and said it was standing by the balloting as "clean."

The dispute involved the latest in a series of alleged irregularities that have raised questions about the validity of the elections, which returned to office the same hard-line nationalist political parties that led Bosnia during 43 months of war.

A recount would delay certification of the results and the seating of a new government, both of which the Clinton administration wants to see happen quickly.

The appeals panel is part of the OSCE, which is within its rights in ignoring the panel's recommendation. But by doing so, it leaves an indelible stain on the credibility of the election results.

In its ruling, the subcommission concluded that, based on what it called generous estimates of the number of living, eligible voters, turnout on Sept. 14 was about 77%. But given well-reported obstacles that prevented tens of thousands of people from voting--Muslims who were denied entry to their hometowns or who did not even try to reach them; Serbs, Croats and Muslims who could not find their names on registration lists--such a turnout seemed suspiciously high, the subcommission stated.

"Considered in the light of known obstacles to voting for certain voters or groups of voters . . . is the global turnout figure of 77% so high that it raises a significant possibility of double voting, other forms of fraud, or counting irregularities? In the view of the subcommission, it does," the subcommission said.

Two independent statistical analyses released last week concluded that the total number of ballots cast may have exceeded 100% of registered voters. The authors of those studies suggested that victorious parties, which in some cases had free rein at unsupervised polling stations, might have stuffed the ballot boxes.

Issuing of final, official results has been repeatedly delayed after OSCE officials said they detected numerous errors in vote-counting, arithmetic and other tabulation procedures.

U.S.-backed Muslim President Alija Izetbegovic only narrowly bested Bosnian Serb leader Momcilo Krajisnik for the chairmanship of a three-person presidency.

Critics have suggested that U.S. officials are so eager for the elections to be over, with Izetbegovic the winner, that errors and perhaps fraud are being deliberately glossed over.


An OSCE spokeswoman said Friday in a telephone interview from the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, that election organizers had rejected the recount recommendation because it would only delay delicate efforts to rebuild postwar institutions.

"A recount would have taken two weeks, would have required 100 people that we don't have at this point and would have delayed certification and the establishment of the instruments of government," spokeswoman Nicole Szulc said, "and the outcome would not have changed."

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