Moderates win Sarajevo, see more Bosnia gains
SARAJEVO, Apr 10, 2000 -- (Reuters) Western-backed politicians say they made gains in local elections in Bosnia but wartime nationalist parties look set to hold onto power in many areas.
If confirmed, such an outcome would offer some encouragement for international efforts to rebuild Bosnia and to promote reconciliation and economic reform.
But it would also show that Bosnia remains divided and, despite poverty and unemployment, many Serbs, Croats and Moslems voted on Saturday along ethnic lines hardened in the 1992-1995 conflict in which more than 200,000 people died.
According to results released by the parties, the multi-ethnic Social Democratic Party (SDP) advanced at the expense of nationalists in predominantly Moslem areas, including the capital Sarajevo.
"This is the biggest political change that has happened in elections since Dayton," said SDP leader Zlatko Lagumdzija, referring to the 1995 U.S.-brokered peace treaty.
Lagumdzija, whose party only controlled the northern town of Tuzla prior to the second post-war municipal election, forecast that the SDP would run around 20 federation municipalities, either on its own or in coalition.
"The SDP won because people of Bosnia are sick and tired of what they've had so far, sick and tired of nationalism."
WOUNDED DURING SARAJEVO SIEGE
A 44-year-old computer science professor, Lagumdzija was deputy Prime Minister in the wartime Moslem-led government and was injured by shrapnel during the siege of Sarajevo.
A spokesman for the ruling Moslem Party of Democratic Action acknowledged that it had lost some support, but stressed that it remained the strongest party, winning a total of 35 municipalities either on its own or in coalition.
In the Serb republic, the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) founded a decade ago by indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic said it had won a majority of votes counted so far.
Rival parties blamed a backlash against last week's arrest by NATO-led troops of Momcilo Krajisnik, Karadzic's right-hand man during the war.
The SDS insists it has changed and favors cooperation with Western officials overseeing the peace process. It also says Karadzic has no influence on the party any more.
Analyst James Lyon at the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank said it was still a "hard core nationalist party."
On a more positive note for the international community, the Party of Independent Social Democrats of Western-backed Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik predicted it would become the second largest party in Bosnia's Serb half after the SDS.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which organized the vote, said it would release official preliminary results later on Monday.
Full results will not be known for some time given the large number of voters outside the country and the absentee ballots cast by hundreds of thousands of refugees around the country.
The OSCE said the elections had generally been free and fair. It estimated the turnout at around 70 percent.
Western envoys had urged Bosnians to reject wartime nationalism and opt for more moderate politicians.
They have accused local hard-liners on all sides of hampering efforts to speed up refugee returns and implement economic reform to reduce dependence on massive foreign assistance.
Lyon at the ICG said gains for the SDP in Moslem areas could signal the beginning of a shift away from nationalist policies in Bosnia. "This will encourage people in the other ethnic groups to vote for their own leaders with similar goals."