Talha Ozturk / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Rival nationalists take lead in Bosnia-Herzegovina's complex elections

Amid economic stagnation and high unemployment, voters choose nationalists to the country's tri-partite presidency

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Only months after violent protests rocked Bosnia-Herzegovina, voters in this country of 3.3 million punished the ruling parties that have overseen four years of social unrest and economic stagnation, putting opposing nationalists in the lead for the tri-partite presidency.

Still, it remains unclear if change is forthcoming since the exact make up of the many levels of government will depend on complex coalition negotiations.

Bakir Izetbegović, Dragan Čović and Mladen Ivanić were out in front Monday, representing Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs respectively for the three-person presidency.

The ruling Social Democrat Party (SDP) promised to fight corruption and lower unemployment, but the government's failure to do so sparked one of the biggest and most violent protests Bosnia-Herzegovina has seen. The SDP, which dominated the polls four years ago, appears to have lost at every level of government following Sunday's vote.

In February, thousands took to the streets of Sarajevo and 20 other cities and towns in Bosnia-Herzegovina, setting fire to cars and government buildings and hurling rocks at police — an outburst of violence following long-simmering discontent over crime, corruption and a 44 percent unemployment rate.

These general elections are the seventh since the signing of the Dayton Peace Accord in 1995, which put an end to the more than three-year Bosnian War. The accord codified a compromise that divided the country in two self-administering regions — one for the Serbs, the other shared by Bosniacs and Croats. Everything is tied together by a central government.

In this political setup, Bosnians were choosing three presidents to serve simultaneously and a parliament. The Serb electorate voted for one president and a parliament of Republika Srpska. Voters in the Bosniac-Croat side elected two presidents, selected lawmakers for their regional parliament and for parliaments of their 10 cantons.

Preliminary results show that nationalists with little shared vision of Bosnia's future were leading, likely portending more dysfunction in a country.

The president of the main Croat party, Čović, pushes for secession within the country, while the Bosniacs call for the unity of the state.

Austrian foreign affairs minister, Sebastian Kurz, welcomed the “peaceful” course of the elections and expressed hope that a new government will be formed as soon as possible.

But he told Al Jazeera that Bosnia and Herzegovina could only join the European Union with its current borders.

“I am convinced that the politicians understood the message of the protests and that they [the different political parties] will cooperate. Questioning the state is not the basis for joining E.U. Future E.U. member state Bosnia and Herzegovina can only be accepted to the community in its present borders,” said Kurz.

Izetbegovic, leader of the main Bosniak SDA party, vowed an end to the divisions and to kick-start Bosnia's stalled bid to join NATO and the European Union.

"It's high time to end the standstill and I think that politicians have matured enough to come out of this vicious cycle," he said on Sunday according to Reuters.

With wire services

Related News

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter


Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter