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Izetbegovic Ahead In Bosnia’s Presidential Poll

September 18, 1996

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Bosnia’s Muslim president, who led the country during the Balkan war, appears likely to lead the new government’s three-man presidency during peace.

Despite an increasingly nationalist tone from the party of Alija Izetbegovic, diplomats are counting on the 72-year-old president to steer Bosnia away from war and separatism.

With 85 percent of the Muslim and Croat ballots and 79 percent of the Serb vote counted, Izetbegovic had 629,000 votes compared to 501,000 for Momcilo Krajisnik, a Serb nationalist who advocated for making the Serb half of Bosnia a separate state.

Kresimir Zubak of the main Croat party had 245,000 votes. Final results were expected today.

The peace plan for Bosnia calls for a three-way presidency shared by a Muslim, a Serb and a Croat. The one with the highest number of votes is chairman for two years. The Dayton peace agreement does not give the chairman specific powers; the role is largely symbolic.

Izetbegovic’s team already was anticipating victory. His party ``will certainly pop the champagne tonight,″ Mirza Hajric, a close aide to the Bosnian president, said Tuesday night.

Even before final results were in from Saturday’s national elections, foreign envoys were pressing Izetbegovic to start working on the institutions meant to preserve peace and to keep the country intact.

Under the Dayton accord, Bosnia’s two halves _ the Muslim-Croat federation and a Serb republic _ will enjoy a high degree of autonomy. The key to holding Bosnia together will be avoiding a political stalemate, not only among the three president but also within the parliament.

As the official who presents Bosnia’s image to the world, the chairman will be the chief target of international pressure to hold the country together.

How well the three-man presidency works toward keeping Bosnia stable with help determine how many international peace troops will stay beyond the end of their mission in December, and for how long.

During the election campaign, Izetbegovic’s party warned that if Muslims did not vote _ of if they split their vote between competing Muslim-led parties _ the Serb candidate could be the country’s next leader.

Krajisnik was a senior deputy to Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader who has been indicted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal.

Members of the presidency can make decisions by a two-thirds vote. But a dissenting member can refer them to members of his ethnic group in parliament, which can veto such decisions by a two-thirds vote.

In addition to electing the three presidents, voters cast ballots Saturday for a national parliament and for regional parliaments, for the Muslim-Croat and Serb halves of the country. Those results are expected later this week.

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