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Ethnic lines drawn as Bosnia-Herzegovina elects its presidents

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Voters would witness something unusual during the run-up to the Oct. 3 presidential elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).

On Tuesday a crowd of estimated 10,000 crammed the central square of the northeast Bosnian town of Tuzla, demonstrating support for Fahrudin Radoncic, one of the few new personalities to emerge during an election campaign that otherwise could be a replay of so many previous election campaigns in BiH since the end of the civil war in 1995: a repeat of the same issues, same tactics and many of the same faces that have become fixtures on the political landscape.

Radoncic is considered the Bosnian equivalent of Silvio Berlusconi, a self-made media owner with political ambitions. He is the owner of “Dnevni Avaz,” the largest circulation daily in BiH, and considered a political moderate.

Early opinion polls in July conducted by the “Global” magazine put him ahead of the more established candidates for the position of Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) representative in the three-person presidency.

The survey indicated that Radoncic, with his Party for a Better Future for BiH (SBBBiH), would take 27 percent of the popular votes, with the incumbent Haris Silajdzic and his Party for BiH (SBiH) receiving 20 percent, while Bakir Izetbegovic of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) would trail with 13 percent.

Nonetheless, opinion polls don’t always conform to votes in BiH, as the centralist Party for Social Democratic Party (SDP) has witnessed over the years. The party has routinely done better in polls than at the ballot box.

In a country with three presidents, each representing one of the constituent nations of BiH, ethnic politics inevitably dominates the agenda, and reflects conflicting views at the core of each group’s vision of the future state of BiH.

The Bosniak perception remains one of increased centralization. The Bosnian Serbs, with their own entity, continue to defend their autonomy, while the Croats, dissatisfied that they must share an entity with the more numerous Bosniak population, seek a greater autonomy.

Milorad Dodik, the current prime minister of the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska (RS), appears to be unbeatable for his candidacy as president of that entity. But his party’s candidate for the Serb representative on the BiH presidency, Nebojsa Radmanovic, also appears poised to win.

According to an Ipsos Strategic Marketing survey released on Sept. 16, Dodik received the support from 62 percent of those interviewed, with Radmanovic receiving 55 percent.

Dodik’s political party, the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), is also predicted to take a majority of votes in the Serb entity, but whether this will reflect a majority in the parliament remains to be seen.

Dodik’s policies of maintaining autonomy for institutions of RS are routinely blamed for the lack of structural reform in BiH, a country with a costly, complex and inefficient bureaucracy. He has also been accused of stoking separatist emotions among the Bosnian Serb population.

He is quoted during the campaign by saying, “RS will exist forever, BiH as long as necessary.”

Despite these criticism, RS under Dodik’s leadership has had a record of being more effective with fewer funds and has demonstrated a greater fiscal restraint, when compared with the Federation of BiH, the Bosniak-Croat dominated entity. The potential bankruptcy of the federation, largely attributed to war veteran benefits and pensions, is a recurring theme on the media.X The most unusual election remains, nonetheless, the election of a Croatian representative to the collective presidency.

The current Croat president is Zeljko Komsic, a member of the SDP not affiliated with any party with a Croat prefix. Croat parties have accused smaller Bosniak parties of abusing their numerical advantages by getting Bosniaks to vote for the Croat representative. Voters are permitted to cast ballots for politicians, regardless of their ethnicity.

In an attempt to unseat the incumbent, Borjana Kisto, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) candidate for the presidency said “Croats should not allow others choose their member of the BiH presidency.”


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