Bosnia vote points to deadlock on ethnic lines

SARAJEVO Mon Oct 4, 2010 5:24am EDT

1 of 3. Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik arrives at a polling booth in Laktasi near Banja Luka, October 3, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Marko Djurica

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SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Early results from Bosnia's weekend election on Monday pointed to political deadlock along ethnic lines, although the moderate son of Bosnia's wartime Muslim leader was set to become one of its three presidents.

Results of more than half of votes for the central parliament showed the majority Muslims had turned away from nationalists, with the multi-ethnic SDP making the strongest showing, and Serbs remaining loyal to a nationalist party.

A possible win by parties promoting diametrically opposed policies gave little hope that a national coalition could be formed soon and reforms unfrozen, political analysts and diplomats said.

The differing perspectives in the two halves of the country are "so far apart that it is completely uncertain what parties will succeed to reach an agreement to form a parliamentary majority on the state level," said Milos Solaja, director of the Center for International Relations in the Serb Republic's capital, Banja Luka.

The vote, watched by the West for signs whether Bosnia might move toward the European Union and NATO or sink deeper into stagnation, was marred by the announcement of an investigation into possible vote fraud in the Serb presidency contest.

Since the last election in 2006, mistrust has grown between nationalist Croat, Serb and Muslim leaders, and political differences have widened between the country's two autonomous regions, the Muslim-Croat federation and the Serb Republic.

Wartime President Alija Izetbegovic's son Bakir, of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), won the race for the presidency's Muslim seat with more than 90 percent of the votes cast on Sunday counted.

He is regarded as more prepared to work with other ethnic groups than incumbent Haris Silajdzic.

"We are going to stabilize the situation in Bosnia and to bring a better future to the citizens of Bosnia," Izetbegovic said.

SECESSION THREAT

According to incomplete returns, the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) of Milorad Dodik, who threatened secession from Bosnia during the election campaign, was far ahead of in the Serb half of the country.

Its candidate, Nebojsa Radmanovic, recaptured the Serb seat in the country's presidency. Thirteen percent of ballots were ruled void. Suad Arnautovic, an election commission member, said a possibility of fraud would be investigated.

Since the 1992-95 war in which about 100,000 people were killed, Bosnia has held five elections but has lagged in political and economic reforms and remains near the back of the queue of Western Balkan countries aspiring to EU and NATO membership.

Zeljko Komsic, the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), recaptured the Croat seat in the state presidency, although his victory was disputed by Croat nationalists who said he won it thanks to Muslim, not Croat votes.

Dodik's main rival had been Silajdzic, Bosnia's wartime foreign and prime minister, and political analysts said the animosity between them had delayed reforms needed for EU and NATO integration.

The economy, which produced double-digit growth after the war when $15 billion in international aid flowed in, has slowed in the past few years as a result of bureaucracy, corruption and bickering among politicians.

Voters cast their ballots on Sunday for Serb, Croat and Muslim presidency members and deputies in the central, regional and cantonal parliaments, as well as a new president and vice-president of the Serb Republic.

Early returns showed the SDP ahead of the SDA in the Muslim-Croat federation parliamentary vote. "The people have said they want a new beginning for this country," Lagumdzija told a news conference claiming victory in the federation.

(Additional reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic and Adam Tanner; editing by Andrew Dobbie)

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