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A Bosnian woman stuffs her ballot into a ballot box.
A Bosnian Muslim casts her ballot in Sarajevo in Sunday's electionImage: AP

Ethnic Divisions Still Evident

DW staff (jc)
October 2, 2006

Bosnian Muslims elected a presidential representative who favors unification under a strong central government in Sunday's poll while Bosnian Serbs chose a leader likely to press for more Serb autonomy.

https://p.dw.com/p/9CB1

Preliminary election results suggest that voters in Bosnia-Herzegovina have elected leaders with contradictory views on the future shape of the country.

Former Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic -- a proponent of a strong central government -- won the Muslim seat in Bosnia-Hercegovina's three man presidency, while Nebojsa Radmanovic, staunchly in favor of Serbian autonomy, is set to take the seat for his constituency. Ivo Miro Jovic won a tight race for re-election as the Croat representative.

Sunday's election was perhaps the most crucial one for Bosnia-Herzegovina since the ethnic civil war there ended eleven years ago The office of the International High Representative, which oversees the peace process in the conflict-ridden former Yugoslav republic, is scheduled to close in mid-2007. Although international peacekeeping troops will remain, Bosnians will be expected to assume more responsibility for running affairs within their country.

Fundamental disagreement

But it is questionable whether those elected will be able to reach any sort of consensus. Silajdzic, who is projected to have won a landslide victory against incumbent Sulejman Tihic, wants to do away with the two autonomous regions, the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Serb Republic, that currently comprise Bosnia-Herzegovina. He's likely to push for a strong central government that would unite the entire country, with its Muslim majority.

That's something vehemently opposed by Radmanovic, a member of Serb Republic Prime Minister Milorad Dodik's Alliance of Independent Social Democrats. Like most Bosnian Serbs, he resists changing the arrangement agreed to in the 1995 Dayton Accord, which gives autonomy to the Serb Republic within Bosnia-Herzegovina. And the leader of his party recently proposed holding a referendum that would allow Serb territories to formally secede from the country.

Campaign played up ethnic divisions

High Representative Christian Schwarz-Schilling speaks at a podium.
High Representative Christian Schwarz-Schilling.Image: AP

Bosnia-Herzegovina is one of the poorest nations in Europe and is in dire need of economic reforms that would allow for closer ties to the European Union. But most of the attention in the election campaign was focused around ethnic rivalries. International peace overseers criticized both Silajdzic and Radmanovic for using inflammatory ethnic rhetoric in the run-up to the election.

Western diplomats hope that enough consensus can be reached for the nations involved in the peacekeeping mission to continue dismantling the international protectorate in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Germany's Christian Schwarz-Schilling, the current High Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina, said he was pleaed that Sunday's poll had proceeded peaceful and expressed cautious optimism about the results, saying "We have to give these people a chance."

But if the international community feels that Bosnia's leaders are incapable of making progress, the International High Representative has the option of delaying handing over power to the Bosnian government.

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