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Bosnia: A Day At The Polls -- Reporter's Notebook

Sarajevo, 15 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - They came to the polls by bus, wagon and on foot. The young and the old, the weary and the hopeful.

They are Bosnia's voters, exercising their right to choose municipal councils in the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and respective municipal assemblies in the Republika Srpska (RS).

"I vote out of duty and a sense of obligation," Mufit Baticek told our correspondent at a polling station in the Central Bosnian village of Breza. But the 30-year de-militarized soldier said he was not optimistic anything would change as a result of the municipal elections held on September 13 and 14. He said he was unemployed when he voted in last year's national elections and that he is still unemployed today.

Baticek was one of the first to vote after the doors opened at Breza's polling center. He underwent a process to be repeated by tens-of-thousands over the course of two days and across a land ravaged by nearly four years of war.

Although he was one of the first people at the polling site, Baticek was still examined to make sure he had not voted previously. This was done by holding a laser up to his thumb to check for signs of the special ink placed on voters' thumbs to ensure they do not vote twice. Once the routine procedure was completed, Baticek entered the polling site, presented identification, and was marked off the voter registration list by a local election worker.

He then proceeded to another station, where he was given a ballot and instructed in how to mark his vote. He then disappeared behind the voting screen. Emerging from the screen moments later, Baticek dropped his ballot in the box, and walked out into the empty village streets.

The OSCE election monitor overseeing polling station 117-A2 in Breza told me there would 826 others like him before the electoral process was completed in this particular municipality.

A little further North, in the former Bosnian-Croat mining town of Vares, now controlled by Bosnian-Muslims, our correspondent encountered a very different scene. There were much larger crowds of people milling around polling site 095A-1, though it was still early in the day.

An unidentified elderly woman in national clothing said she was waiting for her brother and word on whether the local Bosnian-Croats were staging a boycott. She said she had no access to television or radio and admitted to having little or no knowledge about the electoral process, or the parties or candidates themselves.

In comparison to last year's post-war national elections, there were far fewer posters and election material visible in downtown Sarajevo and beyond. At first glance, our correspondent reports, one would think the rock group U2 were running, judging by all the billboards and posters announcing their upcoming concert in Sarajevo.

There was also a feeling of much more relaxed security, despite OSCE statements to the contrary, and a more muted tone overall, with many voters expressing a sense of resignation surrounding the entire election process. Voting was by secret ballot and entirely personal, but those willing to share their choice with our correspondent, appeared to be voting along ethnic lines, as expected.

Nikola Zalenicka, 70, said he thought the vote meant more to him than perhaps a younger voter because of his decades living under communism. He talked about how he could not even think of exercising the freedom of a vote and that this weekend's process was very close to his heart.

Voter Himzo Ahmedovich, on the other hand, expressed total hopelessness. He said pensioners like himself lived without pensions or progress and that he did not know what, if anything, local leaders were thinking about. Ahmedovich also admitted to changing his party vote this year, saying he was disappointed in the party's performance in the year since the national elections.

But Mehak Senida said she had great hope for the two-day municipal vote. The unemployed 19-year-old said she hoped to see the town's mines up and running again, with jobs for all, once municipal officials were in place. She also said there could be no peace as long as people were living on other people's land and in other people's homes. Senida said the elections were the first step on the road to refugee return and that she looked forward to living with her former Bosnian-Croat neighbors in the near future.