SARAJEVO -- Bosnian opposition parties have won local elections in the Balkan country’s two largest cities, dealing a blow to long-ruling nationalists amid a wave of dissatisfaction with the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Moderates took power in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, and the administrative center of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s predominantly Serbian entity, Republika Srpska, as well as in other bigger cities across the country, according to preliminary results released on November 16.
In Sarajevo, the Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA) of Bakir Izetbegovic lost mayors in three out of four municipalities that were won by candidates of a coalition of moderate parties.
In Banja Luka, the opposition Party of Democratic Progress (PDP) won the job of mayor that was previously held by the Serb-led Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) party of Milorad Dodik.
According to the Central Election Commission, half of about 3.3 million registered voters turned out on November 15 to cast ballots for town and municipal councils and mayors in Bosnia’s two autonomous regions -- the Bosniak-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska -- as well as the neutral Brcko district.
That’s four percentage points lower than the 2018 general elections.
The elections were originally slated for October 4, but the government’s delay in adopting a national budget, including funding for the elections, led to the postponement.
Nationalist Bosniak, Serb, and Croat parties have held power for most of the period since the end of the 1992-1995 Bosnian War.
But criticism of the handling of the coronavirus pandemic and scandals surrounding the purchase of medical equipment have strengthened support for opposition, moderate parties.
The number of coronavirus cases and related deaths in Bosnia have been rising sharply in recent weeks, with health authorities now reporting nearly 72,000 infections, including more than 1,800 fatalities.
In order to mitigate the risk of infection, voters at polling stations were required to observe strict physical distancing, wear face masks, and wash their hands. Voter temperatures were also taken and polling stations were regularly disinfected.
Dozens of mobile polling teams were dispatched to take ballots to citizens under quarantine.
The ethnically divided southern city of Mostar will hold elections separately on December 20.