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Bosnia: First Results Show Nationalists Leading In Elections

Two days after Bosnia-Herzegovina's third general elections in four years, nationalist parties appear to have retained -- and even strengthened -- their power in areas where Serbian and Croatian populations are concentrated. RFE/RL's Jolyon Naegele reports.

Prague, 13 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Nationalists from all three ethnic groups in Bosnia-Herzegovina are leading in the first official results from Saturday's elections.

First reports from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, show Bosnia's Serb, Muslim and Croat nationalists leading in the races for the all-Bosnian House of Representatives. They are also ahead in the balloting for legislatures in the Serb entity -- Republika Srpska -- as well as in Bosnia's other entity, the Muslim-Croat Federation.

These partial results, announced by the OSCE late this afternoon, are based on about one-third of the ballots already counted. The organization warned the final results could change significantly when all votes are counted.

The OSCE, which organized and supervised the balloting, estimates turnout at about 65 percent of Bosnia's two-and-a-half million eligible voters [that is, over 1.6 million voters].

The organization says it will release only partial results until all regular, absentee, and out-of-country votes have been counted. The deadline for the arrival of the ballots from abroad is Friday (Nov. 17), and only when these last ballots have been counted will the OSCE release the final results.

More than 5,800 candidates from 44 political parties, one coalition group, three lists of independent candidates, and five independent candidates competed in the elections.

Voters also cast ballots for the president and vice president of Republika Srpska and for 10 cantonal assemblies in the Muslim-Croat Federation. There was also a local election in the town of Srebrenica, postponed from last April's municipal voting.

Even before the first results were released today, both nationalist and moderate parties expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the elections. In Republika Srpska, the president of the nationalist Serbian Democratic Party, or SDS, Dragan Kalinic, said in Banja Luka that "victory is certain."

According to today's results, the OSCE says the SDS presidential candidate Mirko Sarovic took 47.9 percent of the presidential vote, followed by moderate Milorad Dodik, with 31.3 percent. Sarovic campaigned on a platform of job creation and assistance to displaced persons and war veterans.

The international community -- mainly through the OSCE and the European Union's high representative, Wolfgang Petritsch of Austria -- had urged voters to shun voting once again for nationalist groups and instead elect candidates from moderate parties.

In elections to the Republika Srpska assembly, the OSCE said SDS took 36.8 percent of the vote, followed by Dodik's party with 17.9 percent. However, the outcome was slightly different for Republika Srpska seats in the all-Bosnian parliament. SDS came in first with 41.3 percent and the Party of Democratic Progress came in second with 19.2 percent.

In the Muslim-Croat Federation's seats in the all-Bosnian parliament, the Muslim nationalist Party of Democratic Action (SDA) came in first, with 22.8 percent. This was followed by the moderate Social Democratic Party, with 21.9 percent, and the Party for Bosnia Herzegovina, with 17.4 percent.

In the joint federation legislature, the vote was fairly evenly divided, with the nationalist Croatian Democratic League (HDZ) coming in first, with 23.4 percent. This was followed by the Muslim nationalist SDA, with 22.2 percent, the moderate multiethnic Social Democrats, with 20.9 percent, and the Party for Bosnia-Herzegovina, with 16.9 percent.

Reaction to the vote came quickly.

The head of the OSCE mission in Bosnia, U.S. Ambassador Robert Barry, said the elections represented a true success for democracy in Bosnia and Herzegovina due, he said, to the commitment of 40,000 local election workers and monitors.

The independent Sarajevo daily "Oslobodjenje" commented today that the outcome represents a missed opportunity because, the paper said, serious change in Bosnia will now have to be delayed at least until after the next general elections in two years.

"Oslobodjenje" sees the apparent increase in support for moderate parties as a "move away from nationalism." It notes the nationalist parties used "negative campaigning" and "manipulation," but showed that they will be political factor for a long time to come.

In a similar vein, High Commissioner Petritsch says the time has come for Bosnia's leaders to show greater responsibility.

"The newly elected politicians -- authorities -- need finally to take on the [management of this country five years after the Dayton peace accords. It is high time].

The multiethnic Social Democratic Party, SDP, is claiming victory in Muslim-majority areas of the Federation. SDP leader Zlatko Lagumdzija:

"In the majority of cantons, and in the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a whole, there is practically a new parliamentary majority without (the nationalist Croatian Democratic League) HDZ or (Muslim nationalist Party for Democratic Action) SDA. At the all-Bosnian level, it is evident that a parliamentary majority without HDZ, SDA or (the nationalist Serbian Democratic Party) SDS is possible. To be more precise, it will not be possible for the (nationalist) HDZ and SDA to run the Federation on their own, just as the Serbian Democratic Party will not run Republika Srpska on its own."

The nationalist Croatian Democratic League (HDZ) faced little competition in ethnic Croat districts. And more than two-thirds of eligible Bosnian-Croat voters overwhelmingly supported a call from seven political parties for their own political and cultural institutions throughout Bosnia.

The response to the Bosnian elections in Serbia has so far been muted. But the head of the Serbian Democratic Party in Serbia, Dragoljub Kojicic, says the results show that the Bosnian Serb voters want what he terms a "nationally responsible authority that is ready to cooperate with the international community based on clearly spelled out democratic principles."

A Belgrade university law professor, Vojin Dimitrijevic says he had expected the moderates to do better in Republika Srpska than they appear to have done. But he notes there was little time for the changes in Serbia of the last five weeks to have an effect on Bosnian Serb voters. Moreover, Dimitrijevic agrees with many Serbs on both sides of the Drina River border between Bosnia and Serbia that Bosnia-Herzogovina remains an artificial entity.