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Bosnia vote beset by nationalism and bad economy

Winner will face challenge of creating jobs in country with most complex bureaucracy in the world

Image Credit: AFP
An elderly Bosnian Muslim woman casting her vote ata polling station in Sarajevo yesterday. Bosnia is one ofEurope’s poorest and remains split along ethnic lines.
Gulf News

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina: Bosnians are voting Sunday in general elections that will show whether people are more concerned about the 44 per cent unemployment rate or still mired in wartime nationalist divisions.

The incumbent leader of the Serb half of the country based his campaign on promises of Serb secession and Russian support for it, while his opponents focused on fighting poverty and corruption.

The country’s Bosniacs and Croats, who share the other half, have their own nationalistic disputes but are also more focused on the economy.

But many in Bosnia believe it will be hard for anyone to raise the living standard and create jobs. During two decades of nationalistic quarrels the country became one of the poorest and corrupt in Europe, and the broken promises after six post-war elections have made people believe their leaders do not really care about them.

“To choose from what?” asked Janko Milovanovic, 54, from Banja Luka. “It’s like putting your hand into a bag of snakes and grabbing either a big one or a small one. You are choosing between death in a half-hour or in an hour.”

Whoever wins will for the next four years face the challenge of creating jobs in a country with among the most complex bureaucracies in the world.

Some 3.3 million voters will choose over 500 officials, including a three-member state presidency and parliament.

The country is divided in two self-administering regions. Voters in Republika Srpska will also vote for a president and a parliament of Republika Srpska. Voters in the Bosniac-Croat federation will chose lawmakers for their regional parliament and for parliaments of 10 cantons. Preliminary results are expected overnight.

The constitution created several governments on various levels with overlapping authorities. A bit over four million people are governed by 162 ministers — one on every 26,000 citizens. The set-up was a compromise made to stop the 1992-95 war over whether Bosnia should be divided among its three major groups or stay together.

All sides agree the system needs to be changed but they disagree on how. Bosnian Serb leaders say they would like an independent state. Muslim Bosniacs, the majority in the other region, seek a more centralised state. Catholic Bosnian Croats would like to have their own mini-state within Bosnia.

The average voter seems to have grown tired of decades of discussions over the country’s political future.

“We need pensions to increase, our youth to get jobs, we need change,” said Dubravka Duranovic, a teacher from Sarajevo.