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Saturday, 11 November, 2000, 01:27 GMT
Bosnian elections: The non-nationalist vote
Woman passes an election poster in Mostar
Bosnians vote for the third time since the 1995 peace accord
By south-east Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

Bosnia-Hercegovina's vote on Saturday is the country's third nationwide election since the Dayton accords of 1995 put an end to three and a half years of civil war.

International officials are hoping for a marked improvement in the electoral performance of non-nationalist parties in the two entities, the Serbian republic and the Muslim-Croat federation which together form Bosnia.

But these hopes are likely to be fulfilled only in part.

This year has already brought defeat to authoritarian nationalist leaders in Croatia and Yugoslavia - the two countries that were most responsible for fuelling ethnic conflict in Bosnia during the 1990s.

Boy at HDZ rally
The HDZ demands sovereignty for Bosnian Croats
Croatia's pro-Western leadership has already done much to disengage from the late President Tudjman's interventionist policy in Bosnia.

Meanwhile, Yugoslavia's new President, Vojislav Kostunica - though a nationalist - has eschewed the conflict-provoking policies of his predecessor, Slobodan Milosevic.

So Bosnia has something of a golden opportunity to develop its own policies without interference from its more powerful neighbours.

Equally importantly, it can do so while a strong international presence remains in the country in the shape of the Office of the High Representative (OHA) and the multi-national S-For peacekeepers.

Non-nationalist gains

At previous elections the nationalist parties did well in most of the ballots.

SDP leader, Zlatko Lagumdzija
Mr Lagumdzija's SDP may well eclipse the main Muslim party
But the non-nationalist parties have gradually improved their performance - especially so in the case of the municipal elections in the Muslim-Croat federation during April.

If the nationalists do suffer further reverses, this is most likely to affect the Muslims - or Bosniaks as they prefer to be called - in the federation.

The main Muslim party - led by ex-President Alija Izetbegovic - may well be eclipsed by the multi-ethnic Social Democrats who captured most towns in April's municipal elections.

By contrast, the leading party among Bosnian Croats, the nationalist Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), is not facing such a strong challenger.


Bosnia has something of a golden opportunity to develop its own policies without interference from its more powerful neighbours

The HDZ is organising its own unofficial referendum demanding sovereignty for Bosnian Croats.

That is viewed as a possible precursor to trying to re-establish the wartime Bosnian Croat mini-state.

But any attempt to put that into practice would provoke a decisive response from the international High Representative, Wolfgang Petritsch, who has the power to impose severe penalties on the HDZ.

Surprises

Meanwhile, in the Serbian half of the country - known as Republika Srpska - the nationalist Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), founded by the Bosnian Serbs' wartime leader, Radovan Karadzic, is likely, once again, to emerge as the strongest party.

The SDS is helped by the fact that its nationalist rivals, the Radicals, have been barred from standing for publicly advocating a greater Serbia.

Radovan Karadzic
Radovan Karadzic's nationalists should benefit from anti-West vote
More importantly, the SDS is expected to benefit from a protest vote against the Serbian republic's pro-Western pragmatic leadership under Prime Minister Milorad Dodik which is being blamed for the republic's economic ills.

The same considerations explain why Mr Dodik himself is trailing the SDS's candidate, Mirko Sarovic, in the race for the Serbian republic's presidency.

But under a new system of preferential voting, Mr Dodik could yet emerge as a winner on the strength of the second preferences of Muslim and Croat voters as well as of non-nationalist Serbs.

Indeed, the complexity of the voting may yet produce some surprises - not to mention lengthy delays before results are confirmed.

Bosnians will be voting for a nationwide parliament as well as separate assemblies for the two entities. In addition, the Serb republic has a presidential contest, while in the Muslim-Croat federation voters are also casting ballots for the 10 cantonal assemblies.

Given the different levels of voting, most of the major parties will probably end up with something to celebrate.

But while there is no expectation of any dramatic overall change, the trend of moving away from the nationalist agenda of the 1990s is almost certain to gather momentum.

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See also:

20 Oct 00 | Europe
Row over Kostunica's Bosnia visit
14 Oct 00 | Europe
Bosnia war: Main players
09 Oct 00 | Europe
Serbs shown war crimes film
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