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Bosnia-Herzegovina: Resurgence Of Nationalist Parties Foreseen In Elections

  • Jolyon Naegele

Voters in Bosnia-Herzegovina go to the polls on 5 October in general elections that many analysts predict will result in a resurgence of nationalist parties in the Muslim-Croat Federation, as well as in the Bosnian Serb entity.

Sarajevo, 3 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Political analysts across Bosnia-Herzegovina say all indications are that nationalist parties will emerge strongest in 5 October elections, reversing the trend among Bosniak or Muslim voters toward moderation and confirming the traditional voting patterns of Bosnian Serb and Croatian voters.

For the fourth time in six years, voters will be electing members of the collective Presidency and the all-Bosnian parliament. Also up for election are the parliaments of the two entities, the Muslim-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska; the president and vice president of the Serb entity; and the 10 cantonal assemblies in the federation.

Since the first postwar elections in 1996, these bodies have been elected for two-year terms, and the elections were supervised by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE. That has changed, and Bosnia is now responsible for its own elections. The terms also have been extended to four years instead of two.

Salih Foco, a professor of sociology at the University of Sarajevo, predicts low voter turnout due to apathy, particularly among the young, because of the widespread perception that little has changed. "It is accurate to say that almost nothing has changed in Bosnia in the seven years since the Dayton accords were signed," Foco said.

As Foco put it, politics continue to take precedence over life, laws, and institutions. He said state institutions are completely paralyzed by their dependency on the leaderships of political parties.

Miodrag Zivanovic is a sociology professor at Banja Luka University. "You can see here that national parties continue to predominate, by which I mean authentic national parties, above all SDS [Serbian Democratic Party], SDA [Muslim Party of Democratic Action] and HDZ [Croatian Democratic Union]. Other political forces will simply have to go along with them or else join postelection coalitions, groupings, blocs, and so on. This is a remake of [the rise of nationalist parties in Bosnia in] 1991, as it blocks opportunity for the future," Zivanovic said.

Thus, in Republika Srpska, the nationalist SDS is expected to take the lion's share of the vote. The SDS was founded in 1990 by Radovan Karadzic, who remains at large despite an indictment by The Hague war crimes tribunal. The Serbian Social Democrats, or SNSD, are expected to take a distant second place, and the Party of Democratic Progress, or PDP, an even more distant third place in the Bosnian Serb entity.

In the federation, opinion polls suggest a close race between the Social Democrats of Zlatko Lagumdzija and the nationally oriented Bosniak or Muslim Party of Democratic Action, or SDA, whose titular leader is former President Alija Izetbegovic. But other nationally oriented parties, particularly Haris Silajdzic's Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina, will also do well, weakening the Social Democrats' overall standing.

One leading Social Democrat, Nijaz Durakovic, recently joined Silajdzic's party. The party has been taking an increasingly nationally oriented line, and its relations with the Social Democrats have worsened recently. The charismatic Silajdzic is expected to be a shoo-in for the Bosniak representative in the collective Presidency.

Among the country's Croatian voters, the nationalist Croatian Democratic Union, which finished strongly two years ago, is expected to take a solid first place yet again.

Frustration among voters is rampant. Milka, a voter in the Bosnian Serb capital of Banja Luka, is one of some 500,000 displaced persons in Bosnia out of a total population of about 3.5 million. An additional 600,000 refugees remain abroad. "All the parties have virtually identical programs. But the question is: What is the essence? What will they do with the programs when they get into office? Will they transform these programs into action or leave them on paper? It is essential for us that these programs are realized in deed. If they guarantee jobs, then they should create them," Milka said.

But another Banja Luka voter, Dragana, said: "The atmosphere here is apathetic. People are skeptical and disillusioned." She said young people don't know for whom to vote and in many cases won't vote.

Voter turnout is expected to be the lowest in decades.

There are no new faces in this campaign. Bosnia's proportional-representation system means that representatives of most of the main parties have served in office but have largely failed to live up to past campaign promises, above all concerning job creation, further exacerbating public dissatisfaction in a society where the unemployment rate is estimated to be about 40 percent.

Meanwhile, the outcome of the first round of presidential elections in Serbia on 29 September shows nationalist candidates scored in first place throughout the country -- with two key exceptions. Most districts in the multiethnic (Serbian, Hungarian, Slovak, Romanian, Croatian, Roma, and Ruthenian) province of Vojvodina, the predominantly Bosniak-inhabited southern region of Sandzak, and the capital, Belgrade, voted for the antinationalist, reformist candidate Miroljub Labus.

Vojislav Kostunica, the current Yugoslav federal president, took most of the heartland of Serbia and came in first place with nearly 31 percent of the vote. Labus, who is currently Yugoslav deputy prime minister, took second place with 27.4 percent. The ultranationalist Vojislav Seselj, who came in third nationwide with 23.2 percent, was in first place in some farming districts west of Belgrade near the Bosnian border, in ethnically restive southern Serbia, and among Serbs in Kosovo.

Seselj's Serbian Radical Party today joined two other parties, including former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's old party, the Socialist Party of Serbia, or SPS, in calling for a boycott of the second round between Kostunica and Labus on 13 October. Seselj denounced Labus and said the first-round results could not be verified.

Voter participation in the 29 September elections was only 55.5 percent. If the boycott is heeded by the SPS, the Serbian Radical Party, and the Serb Party of Unity (SSJ), it could lead to a 35 percent decline in voter participation. That would invalidate the Serbian presidential elections, which require a minimum voter participation of 50 percent plus one.