Heavy turnout, few problems in Bosnia balloting
Polls open Sunday for 2nd day of voting
September 13, 1997
Web posted at: 8:23 p.m. EDT (0023 GMT)
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (CNN) -- After a busy but calm first day of voting, polls will open for a second day Sunday in Bosnia-Herzegovina's first local elections since the end of the country's ethnically charged civil war.
Heavy turnout was reported during Saturday's voting, but there was little violence and few complaints about balloting irregularities.
Hours before polling stations opened, an explosion shattered windows in the offices of the main Croat nationalist party in downtown Sarajevo, but here were no injuries.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which organized the election, briefly shut down one polling station in the city of Brcko because of problems with the list of voters. But overall, international observers reported few problems.
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Graphic: Facts and Figures on Bosnia Local Elections
"Everything seems to be taking its course," said the OSCE spokeswoman Betty Dawson.
Under election rules, people who had been displaced during the war were allowed to vote in their old hometowns. There were isolated reports of harassment of some of these refugee voters, and some gave up and went home after queuing for hours in scorching heat.
20,000 candidates running
About 2.5 million people were registered to vote for the 136 municipal and district councils at stake in the country's two autonomous territories -- the Muslim-Croat federation and the Bosnian-Serb republic. About 20,000 candidates were competing for 4,830 seats.
Although 91 political parties were registered, three nationalist parties representing the Muslim, Croat and Serb communities were expected to dominate -- the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA), the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and the Serb Democratic Party (SDS).
Most voters were expected to cast their ballots along ethnic
lines, and political parties were able to estimate election
results simply by identifying Croat, Serb and Muslim names on the registration lists.
Results could overturn strict ethnic divisions
Experts said hard-liners were afraid they might lose some of the territories captured in the war because of the procedure allowing voting by refugees where they used to live. Some 400,000 people cast absentee ballots, and about 35,000 others were expected to actually cross into opposition areas to vote.
Some election observers predicted the Croat nationalists could lose in Drvar, Glamoc and Bosanko Grahovo -- towns along the country's western border with Croatia. They were predominantly Serb before the war but were captured by Croat troops at the end of the Bosnian conflict.
Nationalist hard-liners in the Serb Democratic Party could be
defeated in some eastern towns, including Srebrenica, which
fell to Serb forces amid a suspected massacre of thousands of Muslim men in the war's worst atrocity.
The Muslim Party of Democratic Action and allied parties,
which represent the largest ethnic community, were well
placed to make inroads into territory that was "ethnically
cleansed" during the war.
|Local and district administrations in Bosnia-Herzegovina play a vital role in implementing the 1995 Dayton peace accord that ended the Balkan war. Police, for instance, help
guarantee freedom of movement so there can be interethnic
contact among citizens. Observers fear if the elections fail,
ethnic tensions could flare up again and escalate into
"I am going to cast a ballot so that I can return home," one
voter explained en route to his former village, now
controlled by a rival ethnic government. "The war is over, and this voting is the only way we can fight to go home."
Future of Dayton accord hangs in the balance
The NATO-led international stabilization force, known as
SFOR, maintained a heavy presence and vowed to take "firm
action" against anyone who tried to disrupt the vote.
International envoys say the elections are key to furthering
the 1995 U.S.-brokered Dayton peace accord, which was designed
to help rebuild the country's multiethnic character after
the devastating 3 1/2-year war.
Under the agreement, Bosnia-Herzegovina is made up of the
Bosnian Serb Republic and the Muslim-Croat federation. There
is a multiethnic collective presidency, but much
administrative power lies with local authorities.
Explosions precede voting
Despite the democratic election, there were some unmistaken
signs of the region's ethnic tensions.
An explosion rocked Sarajevo only hours before polling
started. The blast shattered windows in the offices of
the Croatian Democratic Union. International police reported two other explosions elsewhere overnight.
Western officials also said Croat officials failed to show up
to open polling stations in the central town of Zepce, where
Croat nationalists were facing possible defeat, because of a
large Muslim refugee vote.
On the eve of the balloting, international mediators were
negotiating last-minute deals to avoid having to postpone
voting in the divided town of Mostar and in the strategic
northern town of Brcko.
Correspondent Mike Hanna and Reuters contributed to this report.