Bosnian polls results strengthen Serb nationalists

April 13, 2000

(AFP) - A strong showing by Bosnian Serb nationalists in local elections has changed the Serb political landscape some six months ahead of general elections.

A resurgent Serb Democratic Party (SDS) took the vast majority of municipalities in Republika Srpska (RS), Bosnia's Serb entity, winning in 52 of its total 61 municipalities, according to preliminary results.

The results, seen as a barometer of public opinion in Bosnia in advance of autumn general elections, show the majority of Serbs turned a deaf ear to the international community, who had backed moderates.

The date for the general elections in both the RS and neighboring Muslim-Croat Federation -- where multi-ethnic parties held sway at the expense of nationalists in last weekend's polls -- will be set next month by the international community, who still hold the purse strings for Bosnia's redevelopment after its shattering 1992-1995 war.

The SDS, which lost much of its support in the last general elections in 1998, made a spectacular recovery, benefiting from the absence of its ultranationalist allies, the Serb Radical Party (SRS) -- banned from participating in the polls.

The radicals were banned from contesting the vote after they refused to remove Nikola Poplasen, a former hardline Bosnian Serb president, from their leadership.

Poplasen was duly sacked a year ago by the international community for non-compliance with the Dayton peace accords, which ended the war.

Political analysts said the SDS won handsomely in SRS strongholds in the east of the entity.

The moderates, who have governed the RS with international community support since the 1988 elections, had mixed results, but the vote firmly established Prime Minister Milorad Dodik's Party of Independent Social-Democrats (SNSD).

Dodik's tiny party began the elections as the smallest but yet fared best of the three parties comprising the ruling coalition, Sloga.

Of the other two, former Bosnian Serb president Biljana Plavsic's Serb People's Alliance (SNS) saw its support halved, while the Socialist Party (SPRS) also fared poorly, notably in the entity's capital Banja Luka.

Analysts sifting through the ashes of a moderate defeat are turning their eyes hopefully towards one of the success stories of the polls, the centrist PDP of economist Mladen Ivanic.

Preliminary results show the tiny PDP, formed only six months ago, taking second place in 13 of 54 municipalities counted. It took third place in 12 municipalities.

Ivanic founded his centrist party with a number of intellectuals last year, pledging to campaign for economic recovery, the one tie that binds all of Bosnia's disparate communities together.

A respected politician, Ivanic was vaunted three years ago as the man who could form a government in one of several political crises at the time.

He failed on that occasion because he could not win enough parliamentary support. But he proved himself a rarity in Serb politics, demonstrating his readiness to govern with anyone from SDS nationalists to pro-Western moderates.

His name has circulated regularly since then as a possible replacement for Dodik in a bid to wrest the Serb entity from yet another crisis.

Dodik has been an interim leader without a parliamentary majority for the past 18 months, and the RS, a year on from Poplasen's dismissal, is still without a president.

Original article