Elections in Bosnia have entrenched divisions in the country's fragile balance between three ethnic groups at a time of deep political crisis. But according to the preliminary results of the Bosnian elections, its citizens want to be closer to the West and less pro-Russian in foreign politics.
Nationalist parties from all three major ethnic groups were expected to dominate the national and regional parliaments, based on 70 percent of ballots counted, according to partial results of a range of elections held on Sunday issued by the election commission.
Non-nationalist Bosnian and Croat candidates will run Bosnia's inter-ethnic presidency alongside a pro-Russian Serbian nationalist's closest ally, the results show.
Bosnia remains an unstable state for almost three decades since the devastating war between its Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) as former Socialist Yugoslavia collapsed. The conflict resulted in many war atrocities on ethnic and religious grounds.
The situation in the country is overseen by an international peace envoy, who imposed changes to parliamentary procedures after polls closed to prevent a possible post-election political crisis at a time when Croats and Serbs have both threatened moves that would dismantle the post-war order.
The country's central, regional and local contests, divided since the war into separate Bosniak-Croat and Serb autonomous regions with overarching common institutions, pitted entrenched nationalists against candidates seeking reforms.
Yet it is important to note the presence of Bosniak Denis Becirevic and Croat Zeljko Komsic in the presidency. Their decision may influence Bosnia's foreign policy and defence in favour of the West in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
The two will have a majority against Zeljka Cvijanovic, an ally of Serb-nationalist Milorad Dodik, who supports closer ties to Russia and China over those with the US and EU.
Becirevic, who represents Bosnia's Muslims, and Komsic, its Catholic Croats, are seen as more likely than their rivals of working to preserve the country's statehood at a time of its worst political crisis since the 1992-5 war.
“It is time for a positive turnaround in Bosnia,” Becirovic told the press after proclaiming victory.
A Social Democratic Party (SDP) member who 11 opposition civic-oriented parties backed won 57 percent of the vote over Bakir Izetbegovic, whose nationalist Bosniak Party of the Democratic Action (SDA) has been in power since the end of the war.
Komsic, the leader of the Democratic Front (DF) party, secured his fourth term in the presidency beating a rival from the dominant Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) with 53.61 percent of the vote.
Pro-Russian separatist Serb leader Milorad Dodik was on track to continue as president of Bosnia's autonomous Serb Republic. His ally Zeljka Cvijanovic won the race for Serb member of the overall Bosnian presidency with 52.87 percent of the vote.
International observers said the election went without major incidents but warned that ethnic divisions and aggressive, divisive rhetoric remained present in the campaign.
“It is vital to bridge the gaps between ethnic groups,” said Stefan Schennach, heading the mission of the Council Of Europe Parliamentary Assembly.
Peace envoy’s interference criticised by the EU representative
The caucus of Croat political parties dismissed Komsic's victory as illegitimate, saying it was won thanks to mainly Bosniak votes.
Croat political leaders have threatened to oppose the formation of the Bosniak-Croat government if Komsic wins, but just after polls closed, the international peace envoy in Bosnia amended the election law and regional constitution.
The envoy, a German former politician Christian Schmidt, imposed what he said were measures that would improve the functionality of the Federation and ensure the post-election political order of indirectly elected bodies.
Andreas Schieder, head of the European Parliament's mission to Bosnia overseeing elections, criticised the move, saying it was seen as “undermining democracy and institutions of Bosnia”. Schmidt's office was unable to reply to the criticism immediately.