Accessibility links

Breaking News

Ethnically Divided Bosnia Votes In General Elections


A woman casts her vote at a polling booth in the village of Vrapcici near Mostar

Bosnians went to the polls on October 3 to vote in general elections dominated by issues of nationalism and ethnicity.

Official results of the vote show a candidate described as a moderate heading for victory in the election to become the Muslim member of the national tripartite presidency.

The results show Bakir Izetbegovic, the son of Bosnia's wartime Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic, winning about 34 percent -- on track to oust incumbent nationalist Haris Silajdzic.

Speaking as the result was becoming clear, Izetbegovic pledged to cooperate with other ethnic groups to encourage the country's economic development.

The results show the incumbent Croat member of the presidency, Zeljko Komsic, who also favors a peaceful multi-ethnic Bosnia, headed for reelection.

Serbian incumbent Nebojsa Radmanovic, who backs Bosnian Serb separation, was leading in the vote for the Serbian presidential member.

However, election officials said 13 percent of ballots had been ruled void in the Serbian voting, and the possibility of electoral fraud would be investigated.

Turnout in the vote -- the sixth general elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina since the end of the 1992-1995 war -- was some 56 percent, the highest since 2002.

More than 8,000 candidates from 39 political parties and 11 coalitions are competing for seats in the central parliament and the central presidency, which rotates among three representatives of the country's main ethnic groups: Croats, Serbs, and Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims).

Voters will also elect deputies for the parliaments of its two semiautonomous entities, the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation, and choose Republika Srpska's own regional president.

Nationalist Rhetoric

Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation are two separate entities within Bosnia that were established by the 1995 Dayton peace accord following the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.

Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks still remain entrenched in their own communities.

Political leaders have been trying to mobilize their own ethnic vote through nationalist rhetoric.

INTERACTIVE MAP (click to enlarge)
Some voters have expressed their frustration that the elections have been dominated by nationalist and ethnic issues instead of the economy and political reforms. Many voters have complained about economic hardship, including growing prices in local markets and a lack of jobs.

Sarajevo resident Emir Solakovic told Reuters that politicians "talk about politics while people lack the means for living.

"We are at the bottom. Changes are needed, changes in the economy so that people here can live like the rest of the world," Solakovic said.

Boro Bozanovic, a retired rail worker in the town of Doboj, hopes the election will bring better changes for his country.

"It should be better. We all hope for that. The economy, employment, activating production -- there's nothing without that," Bozanovic said.

The country's economy has seen a period of double-digit growth, helped along by the $15 billion in international aid which has flowed in after the war.

The economy, however, has slowed in recent years, hampered by corruption and bickering politicians as well as the global financial crisis. According to official figures, unemployment in the country stands at 43 percent.

Talk Of Secession

The latest opinion polls predict the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats led by Republika Srpska's outgoing Prime Minister Milorad Dodik will remain the strongest party in Republika Srpska and probably in the country.

WATCH: RFE/RL's Balkan Service spoke with young voters in Sarajevo, and found that they place little faith in their political leaders:

The multi-ethnic Social Democratic Party, led by computer science professor Zlatko Lagumdzija, is set to become the strongest party in the Muslim-Croat Federation.

Dodik, who is running for the presidency of Republika Srpska, has ruled out any possibility of entering a coalition with Lagumdzija at the state level.

After the International Court of Justice ruled in July that Kosovo's secession from Serbia was legal, Dodik said Bosnian Serbs should have the same right to secede from Bosnia.

Bosnian Croat nationalist leader Dragan Covic has called for a separate Croatian entity within Bosnia.

Leaders of Bosnian Muslims, the largest single group in the country, have warned that any attempts of secession or establishment of a third entity would lead to a new war.

Bosnia, a country of some 4.6 million people, is a candidate for NATO membership and has aspirations to join the European Union.

Some 1,100 local and international observers are monitoring the vote.

with agency reports