Preliminary Bosnian election results show ethnic divisions perpetuated

By Aida Cerkez, AP
Sunday, October 3, 2010

Preliminary results show Bosnians divided on vote

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Preliminary election results released Sunday indicate that Bosnia’s three-person presidency will remain deadlocked over the nation’s future, with two leaders of the ethnically divided country advocating unity and a third pushing for the country’s breakup.

Some 3 million voters in a country uneasily split between Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats had the choice among 8,000 candidates for the central parliament, several regional parliaments, the Bosnian Serb presidency and the federal presidency, which is shared among the three ethnicities.

With half the votes counted shortly before midnight, the Croat and Bosniak seats in the presidency were likely to be won by strong supporters of a unified Bosnia, the electoral commission said. Leading for the Serb seat was a candidate advocating separation of Bosnian Serbs from the rest of the country.

Fifteen years after the ethnic war sparked by the breakup of Yugoslavia, and despite five postwar elections, it had been anticipated that the vote would still fall along ethnic lines. If final results bear that out, the country’s top leadership will again be split along the same lines as before the election, setting the nation up for continued political stalemate and clouding chances of EU membership.

A postwar deal split the country into two highly autonomous regions — one for the Serbs and the other shared by the Bosniaks and Croats. The two regions are loosely linked by a central government, parliament and the presidency.

Still, there appeared to be some weakening of traditional voting patterns, with moderate Croats and Bosniaks apparently crossing ethnic party lines to support presidency candidates favoring multiethnic unity

Social Democrat Zeljko Komsic was ahead for the presidency’s Croat seat. Komsic, an incumbent, is a strong fighter for a unified, multiethnic Bosnia. The Bosniak front-runner, Bakir Izetbegovic of the predominantly Bosniak Party for Democratic Action, favors unity as well.

Serb incumbent Nebojsa Radmanovic of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, in contrast, backs the idea of Bosnian Serb secession from the rest of the country.

Final results were not expected until Monday. Election commission officials said overall turnout was 56 percent compared with 53 percent four years ago.

The campaign had been characterized by harsh rhetoric, with Serbs demanding secession, Croats calling for the possibility of their own autonomous region and Bosniaks — Bosnian Muslims — seeking a stronger central government.

The EU has told Bosnia that if it wishes to join, it must create a stronger central government.

“People in Bosnia want different things, opposite things, and they elect their representatives accordingly,” said Asim Hadrovic, 46, as he left his Sarajevo district’s polling station.

Comments by the top Serb and Bosniak candidates reflected the divide.

Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of the Serb part of Bosnia who is running for his entity’s presidency, spoke scornfully of present-day Bosnia as an “absurd country” that lacks internal compromise.

It would be best if the country fell apart peacefully, he said after voting in his home town of Laktasi.

In turn, Izetbegovic urged politicians to “find a middle line,” declaring that “an accelerated progress on the path toward the European Union is the priority.”

Such differing visions have kept Bosnia’s government barely able to function. Long and frustrating EU- and U.S.-led negotiations over constitutional changes to simplify the political setup and strengthen the central government were put on ice earlier this year in hopes that it would be easier to find a compromise after Sunday’s elections.

But any final results reflecting the status quo will set the stage for another four years of drift, diminishing the possibility of a path to the EU.

That leaves the nation mired in economic hardship and political uncertainty — and as a potential jump-off point for Islamic radicalism.

Bosnia is “a weak, decentralized state,” noted the U.S. State Department in a report that blames Serb officials for trying to undermine federal structures.

The Serb efforts hampered attempts to combat terrorism and terrorist financing, said the report, leaving Bosnia “vulnerable to exploitation as a potential staging ground for terrorist operations in Europe.”

Political analyst Tanja Topic compared the pre-election campaign to one in 1990, when communist Yugoslavia had just collapsed and Bosnia split along ethnic lines over whether it should become part of greater Serbia or be an independent multiethnic country.

“So for exactly 20 years we have been spinning around in the same political pattern,” Topic said.

Associated Press writer George Jahn contributed to this report from Vienna.

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