Ethnically divided Bosnia votes on its EU future

Bosnian voters go to the polls to cast their ballot in the general elections that will help determine the pace of EU integration.

Sarajevo: Bosnian voters go to the polls Sunday to cast their ballot in the general elections that will help determine the pace of EU integration of this Balkans state still deeply divided along ethnic lines.

The campaign was dominated by nationalist rhetoric with little focus on the underlying problems of Bosnia, which remains one of Europe`s least developed countries and is heavily burdened by the legacy of the 1992-1995 bloody inter-ethnic war.

Ahead of the vote representatives of the international community called on Bosnians to vote on the issues and not the nationalities of the candidates.

Bosnia has been locked in a political stalemate since the last elections in 2006 which has severely slowed down Bosnia`s integration into the European Union.

Some 3.1 million eligible voters will choose the members of the rotating tripartite central presidency as well as the central parliament.

Bosnia`s two semi-independent entities -- Serb-dominated Republika Srpska (RS) and the Muslim-Croat Federation, will vote for their own parliaments.

In the RS voters will also elect a president, while those in the Federation are to choose district assemblies.

In the RS outgoing Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, a hardliner who vowed to preserve the Serb-run entity`s autonomy at the expense of desperately needed political reforms, is set to win the RS presidency.

In Sarajevo, Muslim parties, including the one of the main Muslim candidate for the central presidency Haris Silajdzic, have pledged to push for the unification of Bosnia.

With no shake-ups predicted many observers fear Sunday`s vote will only serve to entrench the stalemate. This could continue to delay Bosnia`s reforms which are a key condition to get EU membership eventually.

Despite the grim predictions, Bosnian voters tired of two decades of hardline nationalism hope for a change that would improve their daily lives.

"My son is unemployed and we barely survive on my earnings," said a taxi driver in Sarajevo, who did not want to give his name.

"I am fed up with great stories on Bosnia and its future, I need a better life right now," he said.

Bosnia`s over 5,200 polling stations open at 7 am (0500 GMT) and close 12 hours later. First results for the presidency were expected by midnight, while other preliminary results by Monday morning.

More than 1,200 observers, including 485 international observers, have been registered to monitor the vote.

Bureau Report


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