SARAJEVO – Bosnians went to the polls on Sunday to choose the country's new collective presidency and lawmakers at national, regional and local levels, deciding between long-entrenched nationalist parties and reformists focused on the economy.
Nearly 3.4 million people are eligible to vote amid the worst political crisis in the Balkan country since the end of its war in the 1990s, prompted by separatist policies of the Serb leadership and threats of blockades by Bosnian Croats.
The polls opened at 7 am (0500 GMT) and set to close at 7 pm (1700 GMT). The first official results are expected at midnight but political parties are expected to come out with their own results around 10 pm.
Election campaigning by ruling ethnic parties was dominated by hate speech and nationalist rhetoric
Bosnia is comprised of two autonomous regions, the Serb-dominated Serb Republic and the Federation shared by Bosniaks and Croats, linked by a weak central government. The Federation is further split into 10 cantons. There is also the neutral Brcko district in the north.
Election campaigning by ruling ethnic parties was dominated by hate speech and nationalist rhetoric, focusing rather on themes of protection of national interests and criticism of opponents than on real-life issues such as jobs and soaring inflation.
A lack of reliable polls has made it difficult to predict the outcome but many analysts believe nationalist parties will remain dominant and that the biggest change may come in the Bosniak camp, which is the largest and most diverse.
Bakir Izetbegovic, leader of the largest Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) Party of Democratic Action (SDA) who is running for the Bosniak presidency member, is seen in a tight race with Denis Becirovic of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), whose bid is supported by 11 civic-oriented opposition parties.
Observers believe that Serb and Croat nationalist parties will remain in power but some polls have suggested that separatist pro-Russian leader Milorad Dodik, who is running for the Serb Republic's president, is facing strong competition from opposition economist Jelena Trivic.
The Croat parties have warned they may block the formation of government after the vote if moderate Zeljko Komsic wins the job of the Croat presidency member. They say his victory could only be based on votes by majority Bosniaks and that they will not regard him as the legitimate Croat representative.