Local elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina yesterday (5 October) confirmed deep ethnic divisions within the Balkan country, which is seen as a natural candidate for EU accession.
Serb, Muslim and Croat nationalists obtained high scores in the race for mayorships in the country’s 149 municipalities following a campaign marked by nationalist rhetoric and lack of interest in the real problems faced by citizens.
According to preliminary results, the biggest winner in the Serbian part of the country was the Independent Union of Social Democrats (SNSD) of Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, which reportedly elected mayors in at least 32 municipalities.
The nationalist Serb Democratic Party (SDS), founded by war criminal Radovan Karadzic, was the second strongest party in the Serb republic, Republika Srpska.
Bosnia and Herzegovina was created in 1995 following the Dayton peace agreement. It is made up of two decentralised entities: Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, comprising Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats, the Muslim nationalist Party of Democratic Action (SDA) obtained the highest score, winning in at least 28 municipalities. The nationalist Croat Democratic Union (HDZ) obtained high scores in mainly Croat municipalities, winning 15 mayoral posts.
Since the 2006 general elections, once-moderate parties such as Dodik’s Independent Union of Social Democrats have been turning to nationalism, observers said.
Voters in bigger cities reportedly shunned the poll as citizens rejected predominantly nationalist rhetoric. But in rural areas, voters turned out in big numbers and helped the nationalists to gain ground. Overall, turnout was estimated at 55%.
The vote was also marked by vote selling. Police in the Serb Republic reportedly arrested 17 party activists who were suspected of trying to bribe voters.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has the status of “potential candidate” for EU membership and signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the bloc on 16 June 2008 (EURACTIV 18/06/08). At a meeting of EU defence ministers in Deauville on 2 October, the decision was taken to phase out the 2,000-strong EU peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina, although no deadline was set.