History invites itself to Bosnia elections

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The son of Bosnia's wartime Muslim leader is set to become one of its three presidents, election results showed today (4 October). Analysts said he seems ready to work with other ethnic groups in the divided country.

The election, watched by the West for signs of whether Bosnia will move toward the EU and NATO or sink deeper into stagnation, was marred when officials said they would probe possible fraud in voting for the Bosnian Serb presidency member, Reuters reported.

Since the last election in 2006, mistrust has deepened between nationalist Croat, Serb and Muslim leaders, and political gaps have widened between the country's two autonomous regions, the Muslim-Croat federation and the Serb Republic.

Late wartime President Alija Izetbegovic's son Bakir, seen as more prepared to work with other ethnic groups than incumbent Haris Silajdzic, led the race for the presidency's Muslim seat with more than 80% of Sunday's votes counted.

"We are going to stabilise the situation in Bosnia and bring a better future to the citizens of Bosnia," Izetbegovic told Reuters Television. "This means peace, better conditions for developing the economy and employment."

According to early returns and party claims, the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) of Milorad Dodik, who threatened secession from Bosnia during the election campaign, was far ahead in the Serb half of the Balkan country.

But the SNSD's candidate for the Serb seat of the tripartite presidency, Nebojsa Radmanovic, was only three percent in front of the next candidate after 70% of the votes had been counted. Thirteen percent of the ballots was ruled void.

"A total of 13.24% 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.

Since the 1992-95 war that killed about 100,000 people, Bosnia has held five elections but has lagged behind in political and economic reforms and remains near the back of the queue of Western Balkan nations aspiring to join the EU and NATO.

EU 'utterly incompetent' in Bosnia

The EU showed "utter incompetence" during the 1992-5 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and this continues today, former Yugoslav politician Raif Dizdarević told Pavol Demes, director of the German Marshall Fund's Central European office and former foreign minister of Slovakia, in a recent interview.

Dizdarević, who held senior posts in the Yugoslav regime and worked with Josip Broz Tito and Slobodan Milosevic, criticised the role of the European Community during the conflict and believes that the EU today is not doing much better.

‘"The United Nations were caught with their pants down, because their forces were only passive observers of the events. Similarly, the European Community limited its activities to providing humanitarian aid. It showed utter incompetence, which still continues, I think,’" he stated.

Election 'will only bring minor changes'

As for the country's future, Dizdarević lamented the lack of communication between the two entities and said that the Dayton model must be replaced with new democratic processes. As for this week's elections, he sees a "psychological and political wall" in the country and is sceptical about the next government being able to surmount it.

"I don't expect any significant changes. It'd be very good if the three-member presidency was changed – but this is unlikely to happen. I expect that there will only be minor changes in the existing power structures given the current governing parties," he said.

He also called on the US and EU to play a more active role in the country's current democratic development, rather than just sitting back and expecting progress from within.

"The key question is what stance the USA and the European Union take on the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It won't be good if they repeat the phrase 'make an agreement within Bosnia and Herzegovina – we'll support it'. They should bring forth fresh ideas," he said.

War in Bosnia 'still going on'

For Dizdarević, the conflict that accompanied the break-up of Yugoslavia was far worse than what the country experienced during the Second World War and although the war physically ended in 1995, it is still going on today – just without weapons.

"After WWII, we were full of enthusiasm and confidence in our strength, which demonstrated itself in the recovery of the country. Conversely, the war in the first half of the 1990s is still going on. It might be without weapons, but features all the elements of hatred, division and rift," he rued.

To read the interview in full, please click here.

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