Bosnian Serb political leader Milorad Dodik has been declared the winner of the presidency of Bosnia’s Serb entity, election officials announced, following a recount after the opposition cried foul.
Thursday’s result comes weeks after Bosnians cast ballots in a dizzying range of contests in early October that included a race for the president of Republika Srpska (RS) – the country’s Serb entity.
Bosnia has been governed by a dysfunctional administrative system created by the 1995 Dayton Accords that succeeded in ending the conflict in the 1990s, but largely failed in providing a framework for the country’s political development.
The recount “confirmed that the candidate Milorad Dodik representing the Serb people and who was in the lead… and remained so with the greatest number of votes won,” said Suad Arnautovic, chairman of the Central Election Commission of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The final figures for the race were still being compiled, according to officials, who said the opposition still had a narrow window to contest their findings.
A preliminary count following the election gave the victory for the RS presidency to Dodik – with the Kremlin-friendly leader winning 48 percent of the vote compared to 43 percent for opposition candidate Jelena Trivic.
The Central Election Commission said the repeated count revealed numerous irregularities it had notified judicial authorities about, but that none were on a level that would have changed the outcome of the vote.
On the day after the election, opposition parties accused Dodik and his party of “organised plundering of the elections” and demanded a recount.
Thursday’s announcement comes just days after Dodik rallied thousands of supporters in the RS’s capital of Banja Luka, where the longtime leader of the country’s Serbs remained defiant that he would be victorious in the race for the presidency.
“I am here tonight to tell you that Milorad Dodik is going nowhere. Milorad Dodik will be in the presidential palace very soon,” Dodik told the crowd.
The recount cements Dodik’s third term as the president of the RS, after he completed a stint in the tripartite presidency.
For years, Dodik has been stoking tensions with his frequent calls for Bosnia’s Serbs to separate even further from the country’s central institutions, earning him fresh sanctions from the United States in January.
Running on an anti-corruption ticket, Dodik’s rival Trivic – a 39-year-old professor of economics – sought to offer an alternative to RS voters, while also trumpeting the Serbs’ desire to maintain their autonomy in Bosnia.
Three parties supporting Trivic held two big rallies in the city of Banja Luka, asking for the recount of ballots.
Dodik, who has long pursued separatist policies, this week reiterated that his political goal was the secession of the Serb entity from Bosnia.
On Thursday the US Embassy in Sarajevo responded on Twitter, saying that any action taken towards Bosnia’s dissolution would violate the 1995 Dayton peace agreement and “carry grave consequences”.
“There is no justification for responding to standard election integrity and accountability measures with the dangerous and irresponsible rhetoric about secession that we heard Monday in Banja Luka,” the embassy said.
“Neither Dayton, nor the Constitution of [Bosnia & Herzegovina], offers any entity the right to secede.”
The United States is committed to the principles of Dayton – that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a democratic, multi-ethnic, sovereign, and independent state with unquestionable territorial integrity. Neither Dayton, nor the Constitution of BiH, offers any entity the right to secede.
— US Embassy Sarajevo (@USEmbassySJJ) October 27, 2022
October’s elections saw the three established ethnic parties secure major wins.
The lone exception was the defeat of Bakir Izetbegovic, a two-time member of the country’s tripartite presidency who also leads the main Bosniak party – the Party of Democratic Action (SDA).
Izetbegovic was clobbered by Denis Becirovic in a double-digit landslide win.