Polls have opened in Bosnia in an election likely to determine the future of the ethnically deeply divided country. Nationalist parties are expected to do well, threatening to leave Bosnia in its current stalemate.
The poll will decidde about the pace of EU integration
Voters in Bosnia are going to the polls this Sunday, October 3, to choose a new central parliament, tripartite presidency, and two semi-autonomous assemblies in the Serb-run Republika Srpska and Moslem-Croat Federation.
Each of the three ethnic groups – Muslims, Serbs and Croats – has representatives in the legislature and the tripartite presidency.
Serb leader Milorad Dodik is pushing for more Serb autonomy
The ethnically divided country is still suffering from the after-effects of the 1992-1995 Bosnian war and has been locked in a political stalemate since the last elections in 2006.
The international community hopes the vote will bring a new leadership to help the country overcome divisions and implement political reform.
Yet pollsters have tipped the election will only further cement the ethnic divisions that have hampered the country's reforms in past years. Both EU and NATO membership however hinge on the country implementing substantial reforms and overcoming its crippling ethnic tensions.
Some 3.1 million voters will be eligible to cast their ballot in the country's two semi-independent entities.
Secession vs. unity
Campaigning ahead of the vote was dominated by nationalist rhetoric fueling concerns that the troubled Balkan country could drift further apart.
Milorad Dodik, prime minister of the Repulika Srpska, has in the past gone on record claiming the country's Serbs should have the right to secede. In the run-up to the election, Dodik vowed to preserve the Serb entity's autonomy at the expense of the much needed reforms.
Muslim Bosniaks are the largest group in Sarajevo
Bosnian Muslims, who make up the largest single group in the country, have dismissed such hardliner talk, warning that riding the nationalist wave could edge the country to the brink of break-up or even a new war.
"We are determined to stop all attacks on our country and our people," Sulejman Tihic, head of the Muslim Party of Democratic Action said. "Any attempts at secession or the establishment of a third entity will not go through."
Bosnian Croat leader Dragan Covic has based his campaign on calling for a separate Croat entity.
Since the 1992-95 inter-ethnic war that killed about 100,000 people, Bosnia has held five general elections but has lagged in political and economic reforms.
The small country - one of the poorest in Europe - remains near the back of the line of Balkan countries aspiring to EU and NATO membership.
Author: Andreas Illmer (AFP, Reuters, dpa)
Editor: Toma Tasovac