Polls have closed in Bosnia-Herzegovina as voters cast ballots in presidential and parliamentary elections following a campaign that focused more on deep ethnic divisions than economic problems and rampant corruption.
Turnout in the October 7 vote was light, with 37 percent of the country’s 3.3 million eligible voters casting ballots by midafternoon local time, election officials reported.
Voters were choosing leaders for the three-member presidency, as well as parliamentary legislatures and canton assemblies in what may be the world's most complicated political system.
No major incidents were reported as polls closed at 7 p.m. local time (1800 GMT/UTC)
The vote has heightened tensions between Bosniak Muslim and Bosnian Serb officials, who have been at loggerheads since the 1995 U.S.-brokered Dayton peace accords created Serb-dominated Republika Srpska as one of two constituent states within Bosnia.
The vote has heightened tensions between Bosniak Muslim and Bosnian Serb officials, who have been at loggerheads since the 1995 U.S.-brokered Dayton peace accords ended the wars that ripped Yugoslavia apart.
The accords created Serb-dominated Republika Srpska as one of two constituent states within Bosnia.
Dusica Stilic, a voter in the city of Tuzla, said the country was stagnating, more than 20 years after the end of the wars.
"We are still treading water. We go down, then we tread water, then we go down again," she told RFE/RL's Balkan Service.
"So it is exceptionally important to vote for anyone, even someone who has not been [in power] yet, so we can see whether there are any people, and whether those people who claim that they are honest can manage to take the country out of the collapse which it is now in," she said.
At A Crossroads
The vote comes with Bosnia sitting at a crossroads: Either it continues to pursue its path towards deeper Euro-Atlantic ties, or its ethnic rivalries further derail progress toward European Union membership and NATO integration.
Though the Bosnian War ended in 1995, wounds from the three-year conflict that claimed some 100,000 lives and displaced about 2 million people continue to fester.
Bosnia is made up of a Serbian entity, a Muslim-Croat entity, and a central government that ties both together in a fragile state.
Voters are choosing the three members of the Bosnian presidency, the president of the Bosnian Serb entity, assembly seats at all levels and cantonal authorities.
The campaign was particularly bruising, according to the anticorruption watchdog Transparency International, marked by the same divisive rhetoric that sparked war almost three decades ago.
That shows little progress from the last election in 2014, when the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) election- monitoring arm, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), documented multiple complaints of vote-buying and voters going into polling booths with premarked ballots along with other irregularities.
"Party functions have totally merged with public functions," says Transparency International’s Bosnia program manager Ivana Korajlic, adding that there had not been such a blatantly dirty election campaign since the 1990s war.
"The abuses have been conducted in the most open manner ever. Direct threats and attacks, pressure on voters and vote-buying, which in the past had been somehow subtle, have become fully transparent. There are no attempts even to conceal them," she adds.
At the heart of much of the campaign controversy was Milorad Dodik, a 59-year-old Bosnian Serb politician who has been the president of Republika Srpska, the Serbian entity.
A pro-Russian who is pushing for Serbs' independence from the rest of the country, Dodik has not shied away from whipping up nationalist sentiment on the campaign hustings.
"Today, they are forcing us again to live with those we couldn't live with in a big Yugoslavia," Dodik said during the last week of campaigning during a trip to Belgrade.
"The only response is to strengthen the Serb political and national identity," he added.
Unity within the Muslim-Croat federation in Bosnia has not been much better.
'Architects Of Dysfunction'
Political bickering stalled the approval of a key election law and the main presidential contender, incumbent Dragan Covic, has put forward the idea of creating a third entity in the country dedicated to Croats, who are a minority in their part of the country that is dominated by Bosniak Muslims and home to the capital, Sarajevo.
These politicians are "the two most prominent architects of dysfunction" in Bosnia, says Jasmin Mujanovic, a political scientist.
Dysfunction is also a word often associated with Bosnia's economy.
One of Europe's poorest countries with an average monthly wage of just over $460, the unemployment rate stands at more than 20 percent, a figure worsened by the fact that it rises to around 40 percent among young people, who are emigrating -- estimated at about 20,000 annually -- in search of opportunities politicians have failed to generate at home.
"They don’t have a specific vision, they have no idea, they don’t know how to offer citizens better living conditions," says Tanja Topic, an analyst from Banja Luka.
"The only thing left for them is to play that map of emotions, patriotism, a kind of empty story that has nothing to do with the life of ordinary Bosnians," she adds.