Voting begins in Bosnia election but little expected to change

A US-sponsored peace agreement divided the country into two independent governing entities – one run by Serbs and the other by Bosniaks and Croats.

Bosnia Election
Bosnia Election

Polls opened in Bosnia on Sunday in a general election that is unlikely to bring any structural change despite palpable disappointment in the small, ethnically divided Balkan country with the long-established cast of sectarian political leaders.

The election includes races for various levels of government that are part of one of the world’s most complicated institutional set-ups agreed upon in a US-sponsored peace agreement, which ended more than three-and-a-half years of bloodshed in the 1990s between Bosnia’s three main ethnic groups: Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats.

The peace agreement divided the country into two highly independent governing entities – one run by Serbs and the other shared by Bosniaks and Croats. The two have broad autonomy but are linked by shared, national institutions. All countrywide actions require consensus from all three ethnic groups.

Bosnia Election
A woman casts her vote at a polling station in the Bosnian town of Banja Luka (Darko Vojinovic/AP)

On Sunday, voters are choosing the three members of the shared Bosnian presidency; parliament deputies at the state, entity and regional levels; and the president of the country’s Serb-run part.

Bosnians of all ethnic stripes say they want representatives who will improve the economy and maintain peace, but the sectarian post-war system of governance leaves pragmatic, reform-minded people in the country with little incentive to vote and the low turnout has historically benefited the divisive, tribal leaders.

While candidates and parties running on the promise to step up the fight against rampant corruption are likely to be competitive in some of the races, analysts say the long-entrenched nationalists who have enriched cronies and ignored the needs of the people are likely to remain dominant after the vote.

The latter include long-serving Bosnian Serb political leader Milorad Dodik, who is running for president of Bosnia’s Serb-run part and has used the election campaign to champion a secessionist agenda and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Bosnia Election
A poster of Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik in Banja Luka (Darko Vojinovic/AP)

To lure voters and avoid uncomfortable questions about their records in office, the dominant Croat and Bosniak parties have also embraced in their campaigns Mr Dodik’s sabre-rattling strategy, with the former threatening to gridlock the country if their candidate for the Croat seat on the tripartite presidency does not win the vote.

Since the end of Bosnian war, Moscow has often been accused by the West of seeking to destabilise the country and the rest of the Balkans through its Serb allies in the region and there are growing fears the Kremlin might attempt to reignite the conflict in Bosnia to deflect attention from its campaign in Ukraine.

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