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Bosnia: Election Results Reveal Political Shape

Sarajevo, 9 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - Nearly four weeks after the holding of Bosnia's municipal elections, and with nearly half the 136 municipalities accounted for, latest results appear to indicate that many councils are in the hands of Serb, Croat and Muslim nationalists. But the results also show the opposition making strong gains in some strategic towns.

As one western official recently put it: "The patchwork map of Bosnia is beginning to take shape, with three Croat strongholds in the southwest, Serb municipalities covering the eastern side of the Serb Republic and a Muslim stronghold around Sarajevo in the center.

The Vienna-based Organization For Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which organized and oversaw the September 13-14 elections, has been slow in releasing the figures, burdened with having to address a large number of complaints from parties about the balloting and the vote count. But these are early days still, officially referred to as the "technical" certification stage.

The OSCE has said final certification will not come until the newly elected councils actually take office -- a day many international officials fear will never come, at least without inordinate difficulty. The OSCE aims to certify by up to December 31. At the same time, Ambassador Robert Frowick, as Head of Mission, will state which municipalities have not met the requirements for certification, and will make concrete recommendations as to appropriate sanctions.

RFE/RL correspondent who covered the municipals in Sarajevo reports that the OSCE has said that an important benchmark of the certification will be the council's election of assembly and executive officers at its opening session. Furthermore, the OSCE requires such councils to ensure that minority political parties are "proportionately" represented as council officers and on council committees.

Almost everyone close to the process agrees this will be, as the OSCE's Frowick said, "a formidable task." For example, in Bosanski Petrovac in the Muslim-Croat Federation, voting returned the only council thus far that qualifies as essentially "a government-in-exile."

OSCE reports Bosnian Serbs won control in Bosanski Petrovac, which was 75 percent Serb before the war. In 1992, Bosnian Muslim and Croat residents were expelled. But three years later, Bosnian Muslim and Croat forces swept through the town in their last big push of the war, expelling thousands of Serbs. Today, Bosnian Serb presence in the town is minimal at best.

The result here was most likely due to refugees who could vote for the council of their pre-war home town in an effort to reverse, or minimize, the effects of wartime ethnic cleansing.

Indeed, latest results today from Srebrenica seem to bear that out. The eastern Bosnian enclave, which was 73 percent Bosnian Muslim before the war, has been almost entirely populated by Bosnian Serbs since their troops overran it in 1995, massacring thousands of Bosnian Muslims, in what has been called some of the war's worst ethnic cleansing.

But today, according to the OSCE, results show the Bosnian Muslims won Srebrenica, scoring their first outright victory in a Bosnian Serb stronghold.

A Bosnian Muslim coalition led by the nationalist party of Democratic Action (SDA) took 24 of the 46 seats in the local vote, according to the OSCE. The two main hard-line Serb parties took a total of 21 seats -- 12 to the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) and nine to the extreme right-wing Radical Party (SRS RS).

It would be an understatement to say that there is likely to be strong opposition to Bosnian Muslims sitting on the council of a Bosnian Serb-populated town, or vice versa, such as in these two cases.

Only one town has gone to opposition parties, the northern town of Tuzla, which is traditionally anti-nationalist.

Elsewhere, the OSCE reports that in Banja Luka, stronghold of Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic, the party of her rival, indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, was smashed, coming fifth out of 11 parties. Karadzic was formerly President of the hard-line Serb Democratic Party, which won seven out of 70 seats. Meanwhile, a second municipality in the Muslim-Croat Federation came under control of Serbs, who won 14 out of 15 seats in the Croat-held Bosansko Grahovo.

The municipality lies in a region where Serbs numbered 95 percent of the population before the war, but were expelled in a final push by Croat forces at the end of the war in 1995. If neighboring municipalities go the same way, as expected, Serbs will control three strategic towns, isolating a corner of the Muslim-Croat Federation in the northwest of Bosnia.

In the Northeast around the town of Tuzla, which has traditionally been anti-nationalist, opposition parties did not win any of the three surrounding municipalities outright, but will be well represented on the councils.

The coalition led by the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) of Alija Izetbegovic, chairman of Bosnia's collective presidency, won two of the three councils and had exactly half the seats on the third.

Opposition Serb parties made gains in two municipalities in the central northern part of the Serb Republic, winning a quarter of the seats in each. Both councils will be divided between a mixture of Serb parties, including hard-liners.

The international community hopes that installing multi-ethnic councils will make it easier for refugees to return home. But the big problem, as all working closely with the process agree, will be in making the councils function.

Ambassador Frowick of the OSCE says the international community has anticipated that difficulty and has a solid concept in place for meeting the challenge.

As Frowick put it: "It will require teamwork and a steadfast, unrelenting will to consolidate the peace."

But another diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity said: "They might as well expect a miracle."