CEOL
No Croatia-style change seen in Bosnia vote

SARAJEVO, Apr 7, 2000 -- (Reuters) Wartime nationalist parties are expected to retain power in many areas in Saturday's local elections in Bosnia - a prospect one Western official called "quite depressing".

Diplomats said it may be too soon after the 1992-95 conflict to expect a radical break with the past similar to that in neighboring Croatia, where a centrist coalition this year put an end to a decade of nationalist rule.

But the head of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) voiced confidence on Thursday, predicting victory in many towns.

"The citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina will tell the authorities of this country that they need to go," SDP head Zlatko Lagumdzija told Reuters at an election rally in Sarajevo.

Analysts agree that his party is expected to make gains in the capital Sarajevo and elsewhere at the expense of the ruling Moslem Party of Democratic Action (SDA) of Bosnian presidency member Alija Izetbegovic.

"The SDA is suffering as a result of corruption scandals and economic problems in the federation," one diplomat said.

NATIONALIST PARTIES STILL STRONG

But they also say that hard-line parties will probably remain strong in other parts, including in a predominantly Croat region in the south and in Serb areas in eastern Bosnia.

Many Serbs, Croats and Moslems are expected to continue to opt for the party they believe best safeguards their ethnic interests in the still polarized country, despite widespread poverty with unemployment running at 30 percent or more.

"I don't think we'll have another Croatia here," said the Western official in Sarajevo. "It looks like the old parties will win again. It's quite depressing."

Secretary-General George Robertson of NATO, whose troops help safeguard peace in Bosnia, said Monday's capture of top wartime Bosnian Serb official Momcilo Krajisnik on war crimes charges should persuade Bosnians to vote for ethnic tolerance.

"It is a signal that they can vote for the future, that they can vote to turn their back on the past and the failed politics of ethnic hatred," Robertson said.

Around 2.5 million eligible voters will choose between one of seven coalitions, 68 parties and 18 independent candidates in almost 150 municipalities across the mountainous country.

SECOND LOCAL VOTE

The vote, the second municipal election since the war, will be supervised and monitored by the international community, which oversees costly efforts to rebuild Bosnia.

General elections were organized in 1996 and 1998 and an extraordinary parliamentary vote took place two years ago in the Serb republic, which forms post-war Bosnia together with the Moslem-Croat Federation.

The elections have so far failed to significantly weaken the position of nationalist parties, which rose to power when the old socialist Yugoslavia collapsed in the early 1990s.

The Serb Democratic Party (SDS) founded a decade ago by wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, now an indicted war criminal says it expects a good outcome on Saturday.

The party, in which Karadzic no longer holds an official position, could pick up votes from the ultra-nationalist Radical Party that has been barred from the vote by the West for allegedly obstructing the peace process.

In Croat areas, the Bosnian branch of the nationalist Croatian Democratic Party (HDZ) looks set to remain the strongest party, despite its crushing defeat in Croatia.



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