Bosnians have gone to the polls for national and local elections amid mounting anger over endemic corruption, unemployment and unresolved issues of identity and statehood.
Some 3.3 million people voted on Sunday for more than 500 officials, including a three-member presidency, a national parliament and leaders of Bosnia’s two regions.
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Bosnians were eligible to cast ballots for three members of the joint presidency – a Croat, a Muslim and a Serb, as well as a new central parliament.
They also voted to elect assemblies for Bosnia’s two regions, the Bosniak-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska.
Under a US-brokered power-sharing system that ended a 1992-95 war, Bosnia is split into two autonomous regions joined by a weak central government, with power split along ethnic lines in a highly decentralised and costly system that frequently paralyses decision-making.
Many Bosnians who voted on Sunday had hoped corruption and unemployment would be at the top of the agenda, factors which caused popular unrest in February when protests over factory closures turned violent and spread to several cities, including the capital Sarajevo.
“I didn’t vote for anyone; they’re all the same. I just came to cast an empty ballot so they can’t misuse it,” said Sarajevo pensioner Saima Alajbegovic, shortly after polling stations opened.
With no clear frontrunners, the vote looks like being split between many players, raising the prospect of long delays in forming governments at the various levels.
Al Jazeera’s Barnaby Phillips, reporting from Sarajevo, said the city, much like the rest of Bosnia, was still divided and there had been little progress in overcoming the country’s ethnic and religious differences.
Bosnia’s Orthodox Christian Serb leaders want to secede, the Catholic Croats want a separate entity within Bosnia and the Muslim Bosniaks still cling to the vision of a strong unified state.
Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, emboldened by a pro-Russian separatist revolt in eastern Ukraine, has grown louder in his calls for Bosnia’s dissolution. Western diplomats say they are unsure of his true intentions.
But Bakir Izetbegovic, bidding for a new term as the Bosniak member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency – Serbs and Croats also each have a representative – is vowing to hold the country together.
“Nobody is really trying to come up with a common agenda that can appeal to that critical mass of citizens who are very dissatisfied with the way the country works,” said Kurt Bassuener, senior associate at the Democratisation Policy Council, a think-tank.