Mon, Oct 02, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Bosnians hit polls on key vote

ON YOUR OWN The fifth general elections since war ended in 1995 were set to elect leaders who for the first time would be free of international supervision

AFP , SARAJEVO

Bosnian girls pass by election posters in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina, on Saturday, in a part of the city that was destroyed during the 1992-1995 war.

PHOTO: AP

Bosnians began voting yesterday in the fifth general elections since the 1992-1995 war, expected to determine whether the Balkans country will continue on its path towards integration into the EU.

The vote is seen as key since the elected representatives will for the first time rule Bosnia without the supervision of the international community's envoy, whose office is to be closed next year.

Approximately 2.7 million voters will elect Bosnia's tripartite presidency, the central parliament and the assemblies of the country's two semi-independent entities -- the Serbs' Republika Srpska (RS) and the Muslim-Croat Federation.

Bosnian Serbs will also elect a president, while the Muslim-Croat Federation will choose its district assemblies.

The October 2002 vote was won by Croat, Muslim and Serb nationalists who led the country throughout the inter-ethnic war. Earlier this year in RS moderate Milorad Dodik took over as prime minister.

During the campaign, political parties have opted to raise tensions between Croats, Muslims and Serbs, instead of providing clear plans on how to recover the country's ruined economy almost 11 years after the end of war.

Although urged by the international community to vote, Bosnians were rather pessimistic that these elections could make change for the better.

Without hiding their disappointment, older Bosnians largely said they would cast ballots, but many young people said they would not show up at polling stations.

"For whom to vote to have a better life? There is no one," Sanela, a 23-year saleswoman from Sarajevo, said bitterly.

"Young people can expect to have a better life only with what they create on their own. We cannot expect anything from politicians," she added.

Her views were echoed by many other young Bosnians.

"I refuse to vote. The only thing I know is that I have a 250 euro [US$317] salary and whoever I vote for, that will not change," said Olja, 25, from Banja Luka.

Suhdija Causevic, a taxi driver from Sarajevo, said he would vote but does not "expect anything good from these elections."

"I'm a pessimist because none of the parties ... can offer anything new as the situation is so bad that nothing can be changed for better," he said.

Rare opinion polls showed that in RS, Dodik could surpass the nationalist Serb Democratic Party (SDS) for the first time since the outbreak of the war. The SDS was formed in the early 1990s by the Balkans' most wanted war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic.

However, Dodik, previously seen as moderate and more focused on economic issues, is now calling for an independence referendum -- for which there is no legal ground -- encouraged by Montenegro's vote to split from Serbia in May.

In Bosnia's Muslim-Croat half, polls showed three parties -- the opposition Social Democrats, centrist Party for Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Muslim nationalist Party of Democratic Action -- were almost neck-and-neck.

All three advocate strengthening Bosnia's central institutions and abolition of the entities, which is strongly opposed by the Serbs.

Bosnia is hoping to sign an association agreement with the EU by the end of the year, seen as the first step on the long path towards membership of the 25-nation bloc.

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