Initial results indicate that moderate candidates are set to win the Muslim and Croat seats in Bosnia's tripartite presidency. However, the Serb seat looks likely to go to a candidate who advocates secession.
The 2010 Bosnia vote could cement divisions
Preliminary results from Sunday's Bosnian election indicate that the Bosniak and Croat seats in country's presidency will go to moderate candidates, while the Serb seat will go to a nationalist, whose party has raised the possibility of seceding from the country.
In the lead were moderate Bosnian Muslim, Bakir Izetbegovic, the incumbent Croatian member of the presidency, Zelijko Komsic of the multi-ethnic Social Democrats, and Nebojsa Radmanovic of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats.
The election is seen as a major determining factor for Bosnia's integration into the European Union and NATO.
"[The election] is the sign of maturity and a good sign for democracy in this country," said Valentin Inzko, the international High Representative, who holds protectorate powers in Bosnia.
Turnout for the election was 56.3 percent, compared with 55.3 percent in 2006. Around 3.1 million eligible voters also voted for deputies in the central, entity, and canton parliaments, as well as a new president and vice-president of the mainly Serb entity, the Republika Srpska.
Bosnian Muslims elect a moderate
Izetbegovic is open to dialogue over the ethnic divide
After 80 percent of votes were counted, Bakir Izetbegovic the son of the late wartime president Alija Izetbegovic, was in the lead for the Muslim presidential seat. During his campaign, he expressed a willingness to work to bridge differences with other ethnic groups in the divided country.
"I will pursue realistic politics and reach out and cooperate," Bakir Izetbegovic told Bosnian news agency Fena.
The race was still tight with only some 15,000 votes between him and his closest rival, populist media mogul Fahrudin Radoncic, who had 30 percent of the ballot. The incumbent, Haris Silajdzic, was trailing in third place.
Separatist party candidate leads Serb election
There was a close race for the Serb seat. Nebojsa Radmanovic of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) had a three percentage point lead, ahead of the more moderate Mladen Ivanic after 70 percent of votes were counted.
During the election, SNSD party president, and outgoing Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, threatened to secede from Bosnia.
Dodik's party has proposed Serbian secession
"Either we will be able to reach a compromise and some balance, or we will have to go for another option and that is to separate in peace, live next to each other and develop civilized relations," Dodik said after voting in his native town of Laktasi.
The Serbian presidential election was marred when officials said they would investigate allegations of fraud after over 13 percent of ballots were ruled to be void.
"A total of 13.24 percent of void ballots in the race for the Serb presidency member indicates a possibility of fraud and will have to be thoroughly investigated," Suad Arnautovic, an election commission member, told a news conference.
Croat victor accused of winning on Muslim votes
The incumbent Social Democratic candidate Zeljko Komsic looked certain to win another four-year term in the Croat presidential seat with 58.27. However, his victory was disputed by Croat nationalists who said he earned it thanks to Muslim, not Croat votes.
Voting in Bosnia is highly complex with most positions being divided along ethnic lines. Voters in the Muslim-Croat Federation can only vote for the Muslim and Croat members of the three-member rotating presidency, while Bosnian Serbs vote only for their seat.
Since the 1992-1995 Bosnian war that killed around 100,000 people, Bosnia has held five 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: Natalia Dannenberg, Gabriel Borrud (AFP/Reuters/dpa)
Editor: Chuck Penfold