Bosnians go to polls in chaotic, sectarian election

Bosnians go to polls in chaotic, sectarian election

Bosnia is holding a general election today (Sunday) amid sectarian divides and increasing separatist demands.

The country is being torn between secessionist Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats parties demanding greater autonomy and electoral reforms.

Bosnia has one of the world’s most complex governance arrangements based on the 1995 Dayton peace agreement, which ended the civil war between Bosnia’s three main ethnicities, the Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats.

Bosnia has since been divided into two independent governing regions with one run by Bosnian Serbs and the other by Bosniaks and Croats with a shared military and judicial system.

The election selects three members of the Bosnian presidency with one representative of each community; parliamentary representatives at the state, entity and regional levels; and the president of Serbian-run Republika Serbska.

Muslim Bosniaks face a choice of voting for a disparate, 11-party coalition that is trying to defeat the mainstream SDA.

The SDA is led by Bakir Izetbegovic, the son of the first president of independent Bosnia. The family has largely dominated Bosniak politics.

The sectarian system leaves many with little incentive to vote and low turnout normally benefits divisive, sectarian leaders.

Many voters say that the lack of young candidates offering fresh ideas has left them largely uninspired on the eve of the elections.

“Most of the candidates that are running are the ones we have been watching for the last 20 years,” said Sara Djogic, 21, a philosophy student in Sarajevo. “There are not many who offer something new.”

Milorad Dodik, who is running for a third term as the Republika Serbska president, campaigned on a secessionist agenda and in favour of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Dodik has increased tensions with his frequent calls for Bosnian Serbs to separate from Bosnia’s institutions, resulting in more sanctions from the United States in January.

The major Croat and Bosniak parties have embraced Dodik’s divisive strategy, with the ethnically Croat party threatening to gridlock the country if its candidate for the three-way presidency does not win.

Croat grievances centre around the vast numerical advantage held by Bosniaks in the Muslim-Croat federation, which has in effect allowed Muslim voters to control who leads the Croats at the presidential level.

Russia is accused of seeking to destabilise Bosnia and other fragile Balkan states through its Serb allies. The European Union and Nato have expressed concerns that Russia might attempt to spark fighting in Bosnia to deflect attention from its Ukraine invasion.

Sarajevo. Picture credit: Wikipedia

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