Bosnian Serb nationalist leader Milorad Dodik has claimed victory with 55 percent of votes over moderate incumbent Mladen Ivanic to take the Serbs’ seat at the presidency, according to preliminary results from Bosnia’s Election Commission.
Meanwhile, the moderate Croat candidate, Zeljko Komsic, defeated nationalist Croat incumbent of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, Dragan Covic, bagging 50 percent of the votes.
Sefik Dzaferovic won the Bosniak seat of the presidency with 38 percent of votes.
Sunday’s election saw more than 3.3 million Bosnians cast ballots to elect an array of institutions in the country’s complex governing system, which was created by a peace accord that ended the war 25 years ago.
The country consists of two regional mini-states – a Serb-run and a Bosniak-Croat entity – with joint institutions in a central government.
The ballot was seen as a test of whether Bosnia will move towards integration in the European Union and NATO or remain entrenched in rivalries stemming from the 1992-95 war, which left 100,000 people dead and millions homeless.
The campaign was marred by divisive rhetoric and allegations of irregularities that heightened tensions.
In a show of widespread popular discontent with Bosnia’s politicians, thousands rallied at anti-corruption protests on Friday in Sarajevo and in the main Serb city of Banja Luka.
Bosnia’s Serbs and Croats want to move closer to their ethnic kin in neighbouring Serbia and Croatia, while the Bosniaks want to keep Bosnia together. The issue was at the core of the 1990s war.
The election’s main focus was the Bosnian presidency because of the candidacy of Dodik, who advocates eventual Serb separation from Bosnia.
The West has hoped prospects of EU and NATO membership would encourage nations in the Balkans to solve their disputes stemming from the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia. Russia opposes any more Balkan countries joining NATO.
With Dodik advocating the eventual separation of Serbs from Bosnia, his election to the three-person presidency deals a blow to efforts to strengthen unity in the country.
“The will of the people leaves no doubt what they want,” Dodik said, following the preliminary official results, adding that voters “punished” his opponent for his “servile policies toward the West”.
“No one can help [the opposition], not even a hundred American or British embassies, as they have been helping them so far. Therefore the will of people is unquestionable,” Dodik said at a news conference on Sunday.
Dodik shifted to the race for the Bosnian presidency because of term limits for his current job leading the Bosnian Serb regional mini-state, Republika Srpska.
His ruling coalition hopes to maintain a firm grip on power in the Serb region.
He urged the voters on Sunday to elect a “compact and unified” government that will preserve the unity of Republika Srpska and work to further benefit it.
Liberal candidates who back a civil society free of ethnic divisions have largely been pushed to the margins in Bosnia’s political landscape, but moderate candidate Komsic managed to defeat nationalist candidate Covic.
Covic, who received 39 percent of votes, sought the formation of a third government body, a Croat mini-state that would spell further fragmentation for the fragile nation, dashing hopes for Bosnia to be strengthened as a multiethnic union.
He had urged voters to “deliver a clear, new message” that they want to turn Bosnia into a country of “absolute constitutional equality” for all ethnic groups.
Conceding defeat late Sunday, Covic warned of a “never-seen-before” crisis in the country.