, SARAJEVO, Oct 12 – Bosnia voted Sunday to choose new leaders and a parliament amid mounting social discontent in a country plagued with corruption and ethnic disputes hampering its approach to the European Union.
Nearly 20 years since a devastating war between its Croats, Muslims and Serbs the country is one of Europe’s poorest and remains split along ethnic lines.
The 1992-1995 conflict, which killed 100,000 people, left the former Yugoslav Republic divided into two semi-autonomous entities the ethnic Serb Republika Srpska and the Muslim Croat Federation linked by weak central institutions.
Some 3.3 million voters are eligible to cast ballots to elect three members a Croat, a Muslim and a Serb of the joint presidency as well as a new central parliament. They will also elect assemblies for the two entities and in Republika Srpska a president.
“I will not vote for current rulers. They did not improve anything,” Nadja Kadric, a librarian in her 50s, told AFP in Sarajevo, echoing the discontent of many Bosnians.
“I hope that many youngsters will vote and that they will have the courage to elect those who were never in power.”
As always ahead of elections here, politicians have returned to nationalist rhetoric to attract votes.
Bosnian Serb President Milorad Dodik, running for a new term, has renewed threats that his entity might secede.
“The aim of my policy is that we are less and less an entity and more a state,” he told a campaign rally.
In response, the Muslim member of the presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic, who is also running for a second term, has appealed for “unity” among Muslims.
At a Sarajevo rally, Izetbegovic warned that politics of “divisions will not pass” and slammed ethnic Croats’ aspirations for a separate entity for themselves.
But Ivana Saric, a student from Sarajevo, decided to vote for a small multi-ethnic party. But she said she did not believe many would follow her example.
“People are afraid to choose major changes. Maybe they are traumatised by the past. Twenty years ago they chose democracy, later independence and then they had war.”
Bosnia’s economic figures are grim. The unemployment rate officially stands at 44 percent while the average monthly salary is 415 euros ($525).
The country is also plagued by corruption, which costs taxpayers some 750 million euros annually, according to non-governmental organisations.
Growing public discontent escalated in February into the kind of popular uprising not seen since the brutal conflict of two decades ago.
Thousands took to the streets protesting the government’s failure to fight graft and introduce political and economic reforms needed for the country to gain EU membership.
Major floods in May, whose damage is estimated at two billion euros or 15 percent of Bosnia’s gross domestic product, have further aggravated the poor economic situation.
Local political analysts have warned that the elected officials would likely be quickly confronted with major social discontent if they do not radically change things.
Apart from its economic crisis, Bosnia has also seen a political deadlock since 2006 due to the ethnic tensions.
Politicians from the three major ethnic groups have failed to agree on major reforms needed for EU membership, leaving Bosnia lagging behind its fellow Balkan countries on the path to the 28-nation bloc.
An EU statement on Friday said Bosnians should expect their elected officials “to bring much needed reconciliation in society and politics close the gap with rest of the region and ensure progress towards the EU”.
In Sunday’s elections, 5,400 polling stations were open. They were to close at 7:00 pm (1700 GMT) and first partial results were expected around five hours later.