Polling stations have opened throughout Bosnia for a municipal vote expected to be won by nationalists among the three main ethnic communities: Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats.
More than 3.1 million voters were to cast their ballots to elect local councils and mayors in the Balkan country on Sunday, but all eyes are turned toward the eastern town of Srebrenica where Bosnian Serb forces in 1995 killed 8,000
Muslim men and boys and expelled thousands of civilians.
New electoral rules have paved the way for the Serb community to win the office, a move that has fuelled inter-ethnic disputes in the town that has become a gruesome symbol of Bosnia’s bloody 1992-1995 war.
Local Muslim politicians complained that they have been abandoned by the international community, while their Serb opponents keep on denying the 1995 genocide, despite the rulings of two international courts.
With an unemployment rate of almost 44 per cent and an average monthly salary of around 420 euros ($546), political bickering has often grabbed the media spotlight, particularly in the southern town of Mostar, where the polls will not be held as local Muslim and Croat parties have failed to agree on new electoral rules.
The international community imposed rules in 2004 in Mostar in a vain bid to achieve reunification of the divided town, but they were annulled in January by Bosnia’s constitutional court.
The court found the rules were discriminatory for certain voters in the town that has been divided between its Muslim and Croat population since the end of the war.
The country is still split along ethnic lines, with a dysfunctional federal government whose leaders cannot agree over what the country should look like.
Following the parliamentary elections in October 2010, Bosnia’s complex political system was blocked for 15 months by the inability of its three main communities to agree on the formation of a government.
Nearly 100,000 people were killed during the country’s vicious three-year war between the three ethnic groups.
The conflict ended with the US-brokered Dayton accords in 1995, which carved the once-multiethnic nation into mini-states: one for the Serbs – called Republika Srpska – and the other shared by Bosniaks and Croats, all loosely linked by a federal government.
Republika Srpska’s president Milorad Dodik, the leader of Bosnia’s largest Serb party the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, has been accused by critics of inflaming Serb nationalism to gain votes, instead of tackling social and economic problems.
Dodik often takes to the stage to sing Serb nationalist songs and his party has insisted on more autonomy for the Serb mini-state.
Bosnia’s enduring divisions have stalled its entry into both the EU and NATO.
The EU has urged the authorities in Bosnia that if it wishes to join, it must create a stronger central government.
But while Bosniaks and Croats want the divisions erased, Bosnian Serbs are insisting on greater autonomy.
Some 550 candidates, including 40 women, are running for 140 mayoral posts, while more than 30,000 candidates, 35 per cent of them women, are contesting seats in the local councils, the electoral commission said about Sunday’s polls.
Throughout the country, some 5,100 polling stations in 136 municipalities will close at 1700 GMT. First results are expected by midnight.