Bosnians Choose New Local Officials
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Amid Western appeals to oust leaders that dragged the country into war, Bosnia held local elections Saturday, choosing officials for all but one of the nation’s 146 municipalities.
Preliminary results were expected Monday. The outcome of the vote, Bosnia’s second since the 1992-95 war ended, may determine whether the United States and the Europeans continue efforts to rebuild the nation.
Since the war ended, Bosnians have generally supported the ethnically based parties _ Muslim, Serb and Croat _ which led the country into conflict. Western officials have appealed for voters to step away from that pattern by electing leaders intent on securing the interests of the country, rather than any individual ethnic group.
``I believe that the voters realize that this is an important democratic step toward the normalization,″ said Bosnia’s top international official, Wolfgang Petritsch. ``It is up to the voters to come up with changes. This is what the voting is all about.″
But Petritsch did not seem optimistic drastic change would take hold after Saturday’s vote. ``I’m not expecting miracles,″ he said.
Changes appeared likely only in some Muslim-dominated cities, where the Social Democrats have a good chance of ousting the Muslim Party of Democratic Action.
Early results reported by the parties themselves on Sunday indicated the vote was largely splitting along ethnic lines, except in a handful of large cities.
The Social Democratic Party, which is largely multiethnic, declared victory in the capital, Sarajevo, in Zenica in central Bosnia, and in the town of Gorazde in the east.
``We have achieved all of our goals for these elections,″ said Karlo Filipovic, a party official.
After casting his ballot in downtown Sarajevo, Social Democratic leader Zlatko Lagumdzija said voters will give a ``nice good-bye kiss to the people who are now running the country.″
The Party of Democratic Action is run by Alija Izetbegovic, the current chair of the Bosnian presidency. Izetbegovic also cast his ballot Saturday, but declined any predictions.
New mayors and executive board members will be elected for all but one of Bosnia’s municipalities. The eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica is not taking part since previous election results were never implemented after local Serbs refused to accept them. Srebrenica voters cast ballots in October.
Voting was extended Saturday evening, with polls closing an hour later than planned. The move came after voters complained that local officials were concealing the locations of polling stations.
The confusion over the polling stations prompted at least one candidate to suggest the vote would be declared invalid. Dragan Cavic, the mayoral candidate of the nationalist Serb Democratic Party in the Bosnian Serb administrative center, Banja Luka, charged that some 30 percent of the voters were unable to find the right polling station.
Those that made it to the polls, though, seemed hopeful that the future would be brighter than the struggles of the past. Hundreds lined up in Mostar, a city divided since the war into a Muslim eastern part and Croatian western section.
``I expect changes from these elections _ a better tomorrow for all people, especially for the young,″ said Meho Corovic, 37, as he voted in the Muslim part of the city. ``I expect more jobs, more reconstruction.″
More than 1 million refugees and displaced people added to the complications of Bosnia’s election process. Some 200,000 of them live abroad and vote by mail, while the remainder remain displaced within Bosnia and cast absentee ballots.
Officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is supervising the elections, estimated late Saturday that turnout was no more than 50 percent.
OSCE spokeswoman Tanya Domi reported a number of minor disruptions in the election process, including a partial boycott of elections in the Bosnian Croat-controlled part of the divided central Bosnian city of Gornji Vakuf.
In the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Pale, east of Sarajevo, a hand grenade was thrown into the courtyard of a polling station, local police reported.
The explosion occurred after polling stations closed and as local election officials were about to start counting votes inside the building. No injuries were reported.