The Guardian, October 05, 2002
Bosnia goes it alone for first full poll
Hardliners battle for control of divided parliaments and presidency
Ian Traynor in Zagreb
In the biggest test of its democratic liberties since the end of its war in 1995, the divided country of Bosnia-Herzegovina will go to the polls today to elect a new state presidency and parliaments.
While the hardline Serb and Croat nationalist parties appear certain to triumph in the areas they dominate, western administrators and observers are watching the poll closely in the hope that the vote will see an overall drop in support for the hardliners dedicated to keeping the country split along ethnic lines.
The main nationalist party representing Bosnian Muslims is expected to do less well on its turf than the hardline Serbian Democratic party - which was founded by the fugitive war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic - and its Croatian counterpart, the HDZ.
Seven years of international administration of post-war Bosnia has managed to avoid major conflict, but it has helped to entrench a mood of lethargy, depression, and pessimism. Crime and corruption flourish in a country that remains sundered along ethnic lines.
The ethnic cleansing that characterised the war has yet to be fully reversed. At least 40% of more than a million people expelled from their homes have yet to return to native towns and villages. A recent poll found that two-thirds of young people want to leave Bosnia altogether.
Given the mood of disenchantment and the dominance of politicians with unsavoury war records, voter turnout is expected to be low.
But today's vote is the first time since the Dayton agreement of 1995 ended the 42-month war that Bosnians have been allowed to vote unsupervised and for politicians who will serve full terms.
The elections are for four-year parliament and presidency terms; all previous ballots were for two-year terms and were organised and run under the auspices of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The fiendishly complicated constitutional arrangements bequeathed by the war settlement mean that voters today are being asked to vote for a presidency troika of one Muslim, one Serb, and one Croat.
They are also electing a central parliament, a parliament for the Serb half of the country, the Republika Srpska, and a parliament for the Muslim and Croat federation that forms the other half of the country.
If the west has taken a hands-off approach to the first sovereign Bosnian election, senior western officials have been weighing in with recommendations to the voters.
Lord Ashdown, the international High Representative for Bosnia, has been urging the electorate to vote for candidates who are in favour of integration with Europe and economic reform.
Colin Powell, the US secretary of state, and Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy supremo, have been echoing the anti-nationalist mantra.
"A vote for reform will advance Bosnia further and faster on the path of democracy, the free market and integration with Europe," Mr Powell said in a televised message.
"Or you can elect to go back down the dark and dangerous road to ethnic division, economic stagnation and international isolation."