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Bosnians Vote Along Ethnic Lines In Local Polls

SARAJEVO (Reuters) -- Bosnian Serbs, Muslims, and Croats voted mostly along ethnic party lines in a local election on October 5, keeping them in power some 13 years after the war, preliminary results showed early on October 6.

"If this trend continues, the parliamentary elections in 2010 will be an ethnic census of the population," said Asim Mujkic, a political science professor at Sarajevo University.

The overall turnout was 55 percent in the ethnically divided country where more than 3 million people registered to vote for city councils and mayors in the two autonomous regions created after the 1992-95 war, as well as in the neutral Brcko district.

Voters in small towns and rural areas turned out in big numbers while those in major cities largely abstained. The turnout in Sarajevo was less than 40 percent, with a similar trend in the towns of Tuzla, Zenica, and Banja Luka.

Analysts said many city dwellers ignored the vote because they were fed up with nationalist rhetoric and an absence of fresh political programs.

The biggest victory was scored by the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) of Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, which swept to power in parliamentary elections in Bosnia's Republika Srpska in 2006.

The SNSD more than doubled its number of mayors in the Serbian region, according to incomplete results. "We totally defeated our political opponents," Dodik said, declaring the victory.

The election commission said 19 municipalities had failed to deliver results in time.

The nationalist Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), founded by indicted genocide suspect Radovan Karadzic, was the second-strongest party in the Republika Srpska."Our people like to vote for sure winners," said Banja Luka-based civic activist Aleksandar Trifunovic. "They knew their favorites even before the campaign began."

More than 29,000 candidates from 72 political parties and dozens of coalitions and independent lists competed for 140 mayors in 78 municipalities in the Muslim-Croat Federation and 62 in the Republika Srpska.

In the Muslim-Croat Federation, the main Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) won the biggest number of mayoral posts, according to the preliminary results.

Observers say the SDA gained the votes from the Party for Bosnia-Herzegovina of presidency member Haris Silajdzic, whom Muslim voters increasingly see as a force who along with Dodik delays the country's progress through constant rivalry.

In the Croat-held areas of the federation, the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) confirmed its dominance in 15 Croat-held towns, the incomplete results showed.

The multiethnic Social Democratic Party (SDP) won nine mayoral posts in several cities, including two Sarajevo municipalities.