Polls Close In Bosnian Vote Amid Little Hope For Change

By RFE/RL's Balkan Service

Polls have closed in Bosnia-Herzegovina after elections that were expected to bring little change to the leadership of a country racked by clientelism, corruption, and poverty.

Balloting on October 2 was held to choose the three members of the Bosnian presidency, parliament deputies at the state, entity, and regional levels, and the president of the country's Serb-run entity. More than 60,000 observers were accredited to oversee the process.

Voter turnout was 50 percent or over 2 percentage points down from the 2018 general election.

Officials said the voting had proceeded in a satisfactory manner despite reports of irregularities and the detention of some people over ballot fraud.

Voting at one polling station was suspended and five officials detained after independent monitors reported irregularities with ballots, news portal Klix had reported earlier.

After polls closed, Bosnia's international peace overseer announced he had imposed changes to the election law aimed at preventing blockades of the government.

"I imposed measures that will improve the functionality of the institutions in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. They will enable all citizens to have their voices heard and ensure that they are truly represented by those they elected," said Christian Schmidt, who has vast powers as international high representative in Bosnia.

"It is crucial for destiny of this country that there will be no blockades," Schmidt added.

Bosnia's 3.4 million registered voters could choose from a huge slate of more than 100 parties and coalitions in the country's eighth general election, but the beleaguered Balkan state's postelection landscape will almost certainly be dominated by many of the same personalities that have thrived on existential crisis and patronage for years, and even amplified their ethnic vitriol in campaigning.

It also took place amid Russia's war in Ukraine, which has further divided Bosnia and raised fears of raising the temperature on long-simmering issues in the Balkan state.

Bosnia remains divided into a Bosniak and Croat federation and the mostly Serbian entity of Republika Srpska under the terms of the 1995 Dayton agreements that ended three years of war in the former Yugoslav republic marked by ethnic cleansing and brutality.

Toby Vogel, a Western Balkans analyst and senior associate of the Democratization Policy Council who has been critical of Western failures in Bosnia, says he doubts the vote will be "transformative."

"At the end of today, the problems in Bosnia are not linked to who's in power and who's in opposition, but to how power is structured and the exercise of power structure. These are structural problems that go back to the Dayton peace accords and the constitutional setup that they contain," he said.

Still, tight races among the tripartite federal presidency's ethnically apportioned seats, including an unprecedented challenge for the majority Bosniaks' seat, was expected to make for an interesting day of balloting.

Meanwhile, a handful of races in the upper house of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina -- whose seats are chosen indirectly, after the elections -- could dramatically affect obstruction efforts that have paralyzed government for years. And the results could go a long way toward answering whether Bosnia is fated, at least for the near future, to remain one of Europe's most vulnerable hotspots.

Much of the attention was also expected to focus on the Republika Srpska and its leader, Milorad Dodik, who has pushed an acceleration of the entity's secessionist efforts.

Dodik has maintained close ties with neighboring Serbia and with Russia for diplomatic and other support to resist Bosnia's federal structure and international pressure.

The United States announced sanctions against Dodik in 2017 and again in January over his secessionist efforts.

With reporting by Reuters