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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Serb Elections Threaten To Further Split Bosnia

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- A peace agreement signed two years ago seeks to create a single country out of Bosnia's two wartime foes. But an election this weekend may in effect divide Bosnia even further, into three parts.


Serbs, who control 49 percent of the country, vote in internationally monitored elections Saturday and Sunday for their 83-seat parliament.


The contest is a struggle between two feuding factions -- one loyal to war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic and one led by President Biljana Plavsic.


The two halves of the Serb-held territory are connected only by a small corridor, and neither side is able to impose its will on the other. In the end, the election is likely to drive them farther apart.


Three Serb Democratic Party candidates were disqualified Friday displaying posters of Karadzic.


The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, responsible for organizing and supervising the balloting, removed the candidates from the party's election list and warned it would remove two more candidates for every day the posters remained on display.


Under strong international pressure, Karadzic withdrew from public life last year but continues to wield immense influence from behind the scenes.


OSCE election rules ban his image from campaign advertising.


About 30 parties are running. Because of the large number of refugees who will vote abroad, no election results will be announced until about Dec. 10.


International officials say the elections are key to the peace in Bosnia.


"Free and fair elections lay the basis for legitimate, democratic government," Carlos Westendorp, the top peace envoy, said Friday.


"We are confident that this weekend's elections in Republika Srpska will reinforce the trend towards pluralism in Bosnia," he said.


The pro-Karadzic Serb Democratic Party, based in Pale, east of Sarajevo, won an absolute majority in 1996.


The party has, however, been stripped of one of its main tools, its television station, and looks likely to lose support. International officials shut down Pale TV because of what they charged was inflammatory reporting.


The extreme nationalist Radicals are likely to gain, and the question is whether the two of them together can win a majority.


Plavsic has been building her own political organization since dissolving the current parliament.


Complicating the election, many Moslems who fled what are now Serb-held sections of the country, are registered to vote there.


Halid Genjac, an official of the main Moslem party, the Party for Democratic Action, predicted his party would get about 20 percent of the vote and indicated his party could support Plavsic.


If no side gets a clear majority, a long period of negotiations over building coalitions is likely -- leaving Bosnian Serb politics a muddle.