Dominant nationalist Bosniak and Croat parties emerged with the most votes in the first local elections in 12 years in Bosnia-Herzegovina's ethnically divided city of Mostar, according to preliminary results from the December 20 vote.
But smaller political parties, including the multiethnic BH Bloc, also gained seats in the 35-member city council, giving them a potential kingmaker role in determining the next mayor, who must gain two-thirds majority support.
Turnout was 55 percent in the vote held under the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic and health protocols.
Known for its Ottoman-era architecture and picturesque bridge spanning the Neretva River, Mostar’s population of 100,000 is largely divided between mostly Catholic Bosnian Croats in its west and predominately Muslim Bosniaks in its east.
Bosnia's Croats and Bosniaks were allied against ethnic Serbs during much of the 1992-95 Bosnian War, but the two communities also fought fierce battles over Mostar.
Mostar has not held municipal polls since 2008 because of the authorities' failure to enforce a 2010 ruling by Bosnia's Constitutional Court that said the city's power-sharing structure was unconstitutional and needed reform.
In the absence of elections, the dominant ethnic parties, the Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA) and the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), have ruled their areas like fiefdoms with separate utilities, postal companies, universities, and hospitals.
Ljubo Beslic, of the HDZ, has served as mayor of Mostar without a mandate and little oversight since his term expired in 2013, while services for the city’s residents have deteriorated.
The long-delayed vote came after the SDA and HDZ in June reached agreement on a new statute for the city.
The deadlock was resolved after the European Court of Human Rights in 2019 condemned Bosnia for its failure to change its election law and enable municipal elections in Mostar.
In that case, the court ruled in favor of Mostar teacher and politician Irma Baralija, who had argued in a lawsuit that the legal issue prevented her from voting or running in a municipal election.
The voters chose 35 city councilors from six ethnically based electoral units and a central city zone.
The election commission presented preliminary results only for the central zone, but the results were expected to hold across the city.