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Bosnians Vote In Local Elections With Ethnic Tensions High

  • RFE/RL

Campaign posters line the streets of the eastern-Bosnian town of Srebrenica.

Campaign posters line the streets of the eastern-Bosnian town of Srebrenica.

Polling stations have closed in local elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina that were held amid renewed ethnic tensions in the Balkan country, which is seeking to join the European Union.

More than 3.3 million voters were eligible to cast ballots on October 2 in the two constituent states that comprise Bosnia.

Turnout four hours before voting was closed was 38.78 percent. First preliminary results are expected to be announced overnight.

There are races for 74 municipal councils, four city councils, and 131 mayoral offices in the Bosniak-Croat federation.

In the Serbian entity, Republika Srpska, there are 10 mayoral races, as well as elections for 57 municipal councils and six city councils. Voters will choose between their current nationalist leader's party or a pro-EU coalition.

Locals and outsiders alike will be watching for signs there of whether an erosion of popularity that began in municipal elections four years ago continues for Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik, who advocates close relations with Russia.

Dodik's Alliance of Independent Social Democrats campaigned on a promise of Serbian secession from Bosnia.

Its rival, the pro-Western Alliance for Changes coalition, has charged Dodik with being corrupt and failing to improve Republika Srpska's poor economy.

On September 25, Dodik held a controversial referendum for an ethnic Serbian holiday despite the poll being banned by Bosnia's high court.

Bosnian Serbs voted overwhelmingly to maintain a "statehood day" holiday on January 9 in the referendum that was boycotted by most non-Serbs.

The vote has led to the most heated debate between Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Serb officials since the 1995 U.S.-brokered Dayton peace accords created Republika Srpska as one of two constituent states within Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In the northwestern town of Velika Kladusa, convicted war criminal Fikret Abdic, 77, is running for mayor and is expected to win.

Abdic, a Bosnian Muslim, was convicted of war crimes by a Croatian court in 2002 and served 10 years in prison.

In Srebrenica, known for the massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb forces in 1995, an ethnic Serb, Mladen Grujicic, is considered the favorite to become mayor.

The 1992-95 Bosnian War claimed some 100,000 lives and displaced about 2 million people.

In Bosnia's 2014 general elections, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) election-monitoring arm, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), documented multiple complaints of vote buying and voters going into polling booths with premarked ballots.

Other complaints included "campaign activity" outside polling stations, denial of access to polling stations for accredited observers, proxy voting, ballot-box stuffing, and vote-counting discrepancies.

With reporting by AFP and AP