Divided Bosnians vote after nationalist campaign

Supporters of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) at a rally in Sarajevo, 1 October 2010
Image caption Bosnians were electing five presidents, 13 prime ministers and 700 MPs

Bosnians have voted in presidential and parliamentary elections after a campaign that focused on the ethnic divisions in the country.

Fifteen years after the country's inter-ethnic war, key political parties urged Bosnians to vote for candidates of their own ethnic group.

The complex constitution means voters were choosing five presidents and 700 MPs.

The elections may also decide if Bosnia moves closer towards the EU and Nato.

More than 5,000 polling stations opened at 0500 GMT across Bosnia and closed at 1700 GMT.

Some three million people were eligible to elect leaders of the central government and two semi-autonomous regions, the Serb Republic (Republika Srpska) and the Muslim-Croat Federation.

They were also deciding who will take the seats in the central parliament and in the two regional assemblies.

The two separate entities were set up by the 1995 Dayton peace accord, which ended the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

With the country's political forces at a stalemate, the election campaign was dominated by nationalist rhetoric from Muslim, Croat and Serb leaders to mobilise their own ethnic vote.

The outgoing Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, who now runs for the presidency of the Serb Republic, said he was committed to "fight for Republika Srpska" and against centralisation.

Bosnian Croat nationalist leader Dragan Covic also based his campaign on calls for a separate Croat entity within Bosnia.

Voting plea

The BBC's Mark Lowen in Sarajevo says that some voters worry that the same political figures will continue in power.

There is also some frustration about the campaign focusing on nationalist issues rather than political reforms and economic recovery, our correspondent says.

However, he adds that multi-ethnic parties might benefit from new voters as they strive for economic and political reform to move Bosnia towards EU and Nato membership.

The High Representative to Bosnia-Hercegovina, Valentin Inzko, earlier called on Bosnians to go to the polls and vote for change.

"Please, get out and vote on Sunday," Mr Inzko said. "This is your country, and it is your democratic responsibility to decide about its future."

Bosnia's fragile economy, already hampered by corruption and political bickering, was hit hard by the global financial crisis.

Official statistics show that unemployment was at 43% in July.

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