In December 1995, after four years of warfare, the three major ethnic parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina convened in Dayton, Ohio, and agreed on a peace settlement. Called the Dayton Accords, they provided the framework and timeline for elections and to establish post-conflict national, entity and local governments.
The Dayton Accords called for elections to be conducted within six to nine months of the signing in December. In April 1996, I was appointed Director General of Elections and within five months, on Sept. 14 to be exact, the first cycle of voting was to be conducted.
Under the watchful eyes of heavily armed NATO troops, Serbs, Muslims and Croats made their way to polling places across Bosnia Saturday to vote in that country’s first post-war national elections.
The elections, mandated by the Dayton peace accords, could determine the shape of Bosnia for the future — whether the country remains reunified under the terms of the accords, or whether the de facto partition that has divided the country since the accords were signed is reinforced.
About 3 million people are eligible to vote for a collective three-member presidency — one Serb, one Croat and one Muslim. Voters will also elect a joint parliament, separate assemblies for the Muslim-Croat federation and the Bosnian Serb republic and regional governments.
According to the Dayton Accords, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was mandated to “supervise the conduct” of the election.
The September 1996 elections were complicated by a number of factors, including the conflict legacies, operating in a post-communist environment, translating voting messages into three languages (Bosnian, Serb and Croat) and safely moving candidates, voters, supervisors, journalists and observers in a country plagued with some 2 million landmines.