Reuters, October 07, 2002
Hardliners punish moderates in Bosnia vote
SARAJEVO: Nationalist parties looked poised to stage a comeback in Bosnia after preliminary election results showed a surprise surge for hardline Muslims and a trouncing for the main moderate party.
The election commission cautioned today that not all constituencies had been counted.
If accurate, the results would show that reformist parties who ejected nationalists from power at the state level in the 2000 poll will find it difficult to govern without the hardliners who led Bosnia into and through its 1992-1995 war.
Saturday's parliamentary and presidential polls were promoted as a make-or-break chance for Bosnians to choose reformist leaders to bury ethnic divisions and push through reforms before Western aid and patience run short. Diplomats say nationalists in power will slow reforms.
The multi-ethnic Social Democrats (SDP), which had been Bosnia's biggest party and the driving force behind the moderate ruling bloc, saw its vote tumble in favour of the purely Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA).
The Social Democrats were Bosnia's biggest party after the last election, but have now been overtaken by at least three parties in the Muslim-Croat Federation alone. These are the SDA, the nationalist Croat HDZ and the moderate mainly Muslim SBiH.
The SDA polled 32.5 per cent of votes compared to 14 percent for the SDP, the commission said. These preliminary figures referred only to the votes of citizens of the Muslim-Croat Federation and Serb votes were not yet included in this figure.
The commission also did not did not say what proportion of voters overall were included in the preliminary results.
Top peace envoy Paddy Ashdown - who said recently the idea of a non-reformist resurgence kept him awake at night with worry - called the results a backlash against painful reforms and not a victory for hardliners.
"Do not mistake a desire to protest for desire to return to the past," the British politician told a news conference.
Support for the main Serb and Croat parties was solid, but many moderate voters stayed home: turnout was 55 per cent, its lowest since the end of Europe's worst conflict since World War 2, in which 200,000 were killed and two million forced to flee ethnic cleansing.
"This shows that the nationalist bloc had the most disciplined voters, while those who supported reforms were irresponsible," said Senad Avdic, editor of independent weekly Slobodna Bosna.
Voters chose deputies for the Bosnian state parliament that sits above the parliaments of the country's post-war Serb and Muslim-Croat halves. They also picked three multi-ethnic state presidency members, a Serb president and 10 canton assemblies.
The winners will rule for four years rather than the previous two, a key extension intended to help them kick-start the economy and make government work.
Then the international community - which runs much of the country behind the scenes and has injected $US5 billion since the war - expects Bosnia to stand alone, a task diplomats have made clear will be harder with nationalists in control.
Hardliners, particularly Serbs, have scotched reformist efforts to forge strong common institutions and a single economic area needed to attract trade and investment and qualify Bosnia for talks to join the European Union.
However, nationalists looked set to take all three seats on the multi-ethnic presidency, including the Muslim post.
Pollsters had warned of disillusionment with a political process that seven years after the war's end had not created many jobs or eased the lives of ordinary people. But voters despaired that a backlash would slow essential reforms.
"It's a disaster. I'll be wearing black for the next four years," one young man said in Sarajevo.