Bosnia recounts Serb president race after reports of fraud

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People protest against alleged election fraud in a general elections in the Bosnian town of Banja Luka, 240 kms northwest of Sarajevo, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022. Thousands on Sunday rallied in Bosnia for the second time in a week, alleging that pro-Russian Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik rigged a ballot during a general election in the Balkan country last weekend. (AP Photo/Radivoje Pavicic)

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Amid widespread reports of fraud in Bosnia’s general election, the ethnically divided country’s top electoral body announced Monday it will conduct a recount in the race to become the next Bosnian Serb president, a ballot that was allegedly rigged by a staunchly pro-Russian leader.

The Oct. 2 election in Bosnia included races for all levels of government in the Balkan country’s Serb-dominated and Bosniak-Croat parts, as well as for the joint central institutions that link the two.

Bosnia’s central election commission on Monday ordered all ballots cast in the race for the president of the country’s Serb-run part to be shipped to the central vote counting center in the capital of Sarajevo to be tallied anew and further examined.

The decision supported by all but one of the multi-ethnic commission’s seven members followed widespread reports of irregularities and problems at poling stations.

“We have heard about cases of voter intimidation, vote buying, ballot stuffing, improperly sealed ballot boxes, of poll workers intentionally altering the vote tallies and numerous other procedural problems,” election commission member Irena Hadziabdic said, explaining the reasons for the decision.

Hardline Bosnian Serb separatist Milorad Dodik has claimed victory in the race to be president of the Serb-run part, Republika Srpska. But his main contender, Jelena Trivic, has rejected that, saying Dodik’s “thugs” were intimidating voters on election day and that poll workers loyal to his political party, SNSD, had altered vote tallies to reduce the number of ballots cast for her so as to hand him the victory.

Trivic’s supporters have staged two large rallies over the past week to demand a repeat of the vote for Republika Srpska’s president and support her refusal to concede defeat.

Dodik has been the most powerful Bosnian Serb politician since 2006 despite being sanctioned by the West for corruption and advocating the separation of Republika Srpska from the rest of the country.

Speaking to local media on Monday, Dodik described the commission’s order as “running against the law” and an example of “foreign meddling.”

Under Bosnia’s electoral rules, votes are counted at polling stations by poll workers who are appointed by the country’s central election commission but are all nominated by political parties and coalitions running in an election. The central election commission collects the poll station tallies, examines them for irregularities and runs recounts where necessary before certifying the results or ordering a rerun of a vote.

The commission has for years called for electoral law reforms, insisting that appointments of poll workers by political parties increases the risk of vote-rigging.

Separatist ambitions among ethnic Serbs sparked Bosnia’s devastating 1992-95 war, which killed more than 100,000 people, displaced millions and shattered the country for years. A U.S.-brokered peace agreement that ended the war created the Serb and Bosniak-Croat entities, tied loosely by joint institutions.

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