After difficult 1996 elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the 1997 elections were crucial in the restoration of trust for democratic governance in the post-conflict state. Linda Edgeworth recalls her time working on these pivotal elections.
In 1997, elections were held in Bosnia-Herzegovina to select 136 municipal representatives. These elections, initially set to be held in early 1996, one year after the countries first post-war national elections, but had been postponed several times by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) due to attempts at voter registration fraud. Given the continued division of Bosnia-Herzegovina between the Federation of BiH and the Republika Srpska, these municipal elections were pivotal to the OSCE and international community’s ability to ensure free and fair elections and to restore trust in democratic governance within the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina. However, prior to the September 1997 polling day, it was doubtful whether the elections would even occur as ruling nationalist parties of the country repeatedly attempted to influence voting and threaten the OSCE in order to sway the elections in their favor.
While the political parties of Bosnia-Herzegovina sought to use the elections as an opportunity to further their own interests and continue the conflict through other avenues, the OSCE was challenged to keep all parties engaged in the common cause of furthering the peace process in their country. Linda Edgeworth, who served as an election worker during these crucial elections, was involved in these unifying efforts and recalls:
“At first officials from each entity distanced themselves from the others, but as the retreat went on, they began to consciously mingle and by the end we're showing signs of becoming a unified professional body. They became so proficient, that once they handle work to national authorities was made, they entered into an agreement with the government to develop all the training materials for election officials. Their status as a strong, productive, and well-respected professional organization has continued to grow and the association is still going very strong these 25 years later. Working on the BiH elections in those years was, without a doubt, the most challenging my career. The lessons learned were never far from my thoughts as I've worked on other assignments around the world.”
Linda speaks more about her experience in the 1997 Bosnia-Herzegovina elections in the recording below.