Bosnia vote fails to defeat nationalists

SARAJEVO, Apr 11, 2000 -- (Reuters) Early results from Bosnia's weekend local elections indicated many voters in Serb and Croat areas ignored Western calls to reject wartime nationalism and opt for more moderate politicians.

Despite gains in predominantly Moslem areas for the multi-ethnic Social Democratic Party (SDP), early returns on Monday suggested Bosnia's ethnic divide remained wide.

A Serb nationalist party founded by Radovan Karadzic, the fugitive war leader of Bosnia's Serbs, emerged looking strong from the Saturday polls.

Partial results from 30 of around 145 municipalities showed that the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) was ahead in 11 out of 12 municipalities which had reported results in Bosnia's Serb half.

The partial results issued by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which organized Bosnia's second postwar municipal elections, also showed the multi-ethnic Social Democratic Party (SDP) made gains in majority Moslem towns at the expense of nationalists.

If confirmed, that trend would offer some encouragement for costly international efforts to rebuild a multi-ethnic Bosnia and promote reconciliation and economic reform.

But the results also suggested many people continued to vote along ethnic lines which hardened in the 1992-1995 war.

"The Croatia effect has not reached Bosnia yet," a Western diplomat in Sarajevo said, referring to the election defeat of nationalists in neighboring Croatia earlier this year.

Western diplomats have accused hard-liners of hampering efforts to speed up the return of refugees and implement economic reform to reduce dependence on foreign assistance.


Towns in which the Serb nationalist SDS was ahead were mainly in eastern Bosnia, where the party has traditionally been strong, and the OSCE said the results might well change when votes cast by Moslem refugees were counted.

SDS deputy leader Dragan Cavic said the party had achieved a great result, winning more votes than in 1997 when it had a majority in 41 out of some 60 municipalities in Bosnia's Serb half. He predicted it would now win in 53 towns.

"We believe that with absentee ballots, we'll have about 50 percent of total votes," Cavic told Reuters.

Rival parties blamed a voter 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. It also says Karadzic, indicted for war crimes and in hiding, no longer has any influence on the party.

But analyst James Lyon of the International Crisis Group think tank said it was still a "hard core nationalist party."

The nationalist Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) - the same party which was ousted in Croatia - seemed set to remain dominant in Croat areas, leading in seven municipalities.

In predominantly Moslem areas, the SDP was ahead in five municipalities, including Sarajevo's old Ottoman-era quarter.

The ruling nationalist Moslem Party of Democratic Action (SDA) was ahead on its own in four municipalities and in two others in a coalition.

SDP leader Zlatko Lagumdzija, whose party controlled only the northern town of Tuzla before the election, forecast it would take around 20 municipalities in the Moslem-Croat federation which forms post-war Bosnia with a Serb republic.

But Moslem leader Haris Silajdzic cautioned that the gains for SDP would not mean country-wide changes as hard-line parties remained dominant in Serb and Croat regions.

Full election 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.

Original article