. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bosnia Vote Confirms Stark Divisions


SARAJEVO -- Far fewer Bosnian refugees cast ballots in Serb-held lands in weekend elections than organizers had hoped, adding to fears that the election has cemented ethnic divisions engineered in the 3 1/2 year war.

UN spokesman Alexander Ivanko said only 13,500 Moslems crossed over Saturday to vote in or near Serb-held villages they were driven from during the war. No more than about 1,200 Serbs went into territory controlled by Moslems and Croats to vote, he said.

International officials said after the elections that 20,000 Moslems and about 4,000 Serbs had crossed inter-Bosnian boundary lines to vote in their former homes. Even that was drastically lower than the 60,000 they had projected for Moslems alone.

Some Moslems stayed at home out of fear; others because of inadequate transportation; still others because of a decision to indefinitely postpone municipal voting.

Polling stations that were moved at the last minute or existed only on paper meant that thousands who wanted to Election organizers announced the first results from two of 109 voting districts, both in Sarajevo. Moslems, Croats and Serbs voted for a three-member presidency, made up of one Croat, one Moslem and one Serb; a national parliament; two local parliaments, one Serb and one Moslem-Croat; and a Serb Republic president. The elected bodies are supposed to meet in one month and begin to govern Bosnia.

In those two districts, Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, the favorite, won 75 percent of the vote for the Moslem member of the three-man presidency. Former prime minister Haris Silajdzic won about 25 percent.

The Serb leadership sounded confident of victory in the Serb half of Bosnia. Deputy Premier Velibor Ostojic claimed turnout was as high as 85 percent and said first signs pointed to an overwhelming vote in support of the Serb republic.

In Serb-held eastern Bosnia, Venjamin Karakostanoglou, a local chief for the trans-Atlantic Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said initial results there gave the ruling Serb Democratic Party the lead.

He said the party's candidate for the joint presidency, Momcilo Krajisnik, had won about 83.6 percent of the vote in some districts in eastern Bosnia, a stronghold of Serb nationalists. The party also held a strong lead for the presidency of the Serb republic, Serb legislature, and seats in the national parliament elected from the Serb side, he said. His nearest rival, Milan Ivanic of the opposition Democratic Patriotic bloc, had 15 percent.

There were no results yet from Banja Luka in the northwest, the center of the opposition.

The Croat who is expected to sit on the presidency, Kresimir Zubak, echoed Ostojic's confidence in a good outcome for his nationalist Croat party. The elections "exceeded expectations, both in security and voter turnout," he told Croatian television.

However, the first results showed Zubak trailing his rival.

International election officials estimated overall turnout Saturday at 60 to 70 percent. They called that a respectable figure, especially in a country in which war raged only months ago.

The elections were held with little violence thanks to the presence of 60,000 NATO troops. But there were complaints that some of those troops permitted Bosnian Serb police to block and intimidate non-Serb voters returning to the towns from which they were expelled during the 3 1/2-year war.

With the counting of ballots under way, the test now comes in whether monitors will be able to recommend certification of the election results, given the extent of the irregularities they observed.

Critics contend that the Clinton administration, eager to make the Bosnian conflict appear more settled than it is so that U.S. troops can be withdrawn, will put a decidedly rosy glow on the elections.

A delegation from the European Union Parliament observing the elections was sharply critical of the handling of both the voting and the campaign that led up to it. Under the U.S.-brokered peace accord that stopped Bosnia-Herzegovina's war nine months ago, national elections were to be held if "free and fair" conditions existed. By all accounts, those conditions do not exist, but the elections went ahead under U.S. pressure.

"You cannot use those two words ... 'free and fair,'" said Doris Pack, a German who chaired the EU delegation.

She complained of deficient voter lists, unnecessary overcrowding and poorly organized voting stations that required some Bosnians to wait up to 10 hours to cast their ballots.

In one Serb-held city, near Gorazde, Pack pointed to "grossly inadequate facilities" that gave priority to Serbian voters over Moslem refugees who had returned to vote. By midday Saturday, 10 times more Serbs -- some being bused in from elsewhere -- had been allowed to vote than displaced Moslems, she said.

The EU delegation also observed numerous cases of voters who could not find their names on revised registration lists. Although this problem popped up all over the country, the delegation said, it was particularly troublesome for refugees who were channeled into designated polling stations.

In Republika Srpska, for example, Serbs who could not find their names on the registration list could consult a master list in a Central Election Committee office. But Moslems who had crossed into Republika Srpska had no way to appeal because their movement was restricted by NATO and the Bosnian Serb police.

The EU also focused on the role of television, radio and newspapers during the campaign and found that especially in Serb and Croat-controlled areas, the media were biased, abusive of opposition and "part and parcel of the power structures of [nationalist] regimes."

"The inadequacies have been so great as to call into question the poll itself," an EU-commissioned report concluded.

Critical assessments of the elections contrasted with a more upbeat portrait from Washington. A delegation sent by President Bill Clinton and led by Richard Holbrooke, former assistant secretary of state and the architect of the Dayton plan, reported that the irregularities they saw compared favorably to those in U.S. political campaigns.

Holbrooke also acknowledged that he had forced the Bosnian and French governments to make an early announcement of a planned meeting in Paris between Bosnia's president, now Izetbegovic, and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic essentially for publicity's sake. "Since the objective was to show momentum toward peace, we decided we would announce it," he said.

The announcement itself was confusing because it assumed that Izetbegovic would win the election.

Holbrooke added that if Izetbegovic lost to the main Serb candidate, Momcilo Krajisnik, there would be a recount. In that case, he said, Izetbegovic would be president of Bosnia until the recount was completed and would go to Paris anyway.

"There is an enormous amount of back slapping going on by all sides of the international community here to put the most positive spin on the vote," said one senior UN aid official. "We are all being told to report only the good side and don't dwell on the bad."