SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) – Bosnians vote today in what may be the most important elections since the war here ended 11 years ago – a vote for leaders who will get a chance to run the country without international supervision.

Since the end of the 1992-95 war – Europe’s worst violence since World War II – important decisions have been made by an international administrator. Now his office has announced that it will close next year if ways to implement reforms, take the country closer to joining the European Union.

But stubborn ethnic divisions that led to the years of bloodshed continue to cloud hopes that the country is ready to make it on its own.

Now, as before, the differences are about the future of the country.

Muslim Bosniaks, the largest ethnic group, generally back a united country, as do their Roman Catholic Croat allies. Their ultimate goal is that Bosnia – now divided between a Bosnian-Croat federation and a Serb republic – will join the European Union.

when its still-fledgling political and economic reforms are completed.

But many Serbs still cling to hopes that sparked the war – that their half of the country can secede and become independent.

Sunday’s elections will be for a state parliament and the country’s three-member presidency representing each of Bosnia’s rival ethnic groups: Orthodox Christian Serbs, Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats.

Voters also will elect leaders of the two mini-states that have comprised the country since the end of the 1992-95 war – a president and parliament of the Serb republic and a president and parliament of the Bosniak-Croat federation, as well as parliaments of the federation’s 10 cantons.

Such a complex political setup was a compromise reached in the peace agreement that ended Bosnia’s war. Up to 200,000 people were killed and 1 million were driven from their homes during the conflict.

In the Bosniak-Croat half of the country, two candidates are running for the post of the Bosniak member of the presidency – Sulejman Tihic, from the main Party of Democratic Action, and Haris Silajdzic, the former prime minister. Both advocate a united Bosnia, although Silajdzic more radically demands a complete dismantling of the ethnic-based territorial division of the country.

Bosnia is one of Europe’s poorest countries with an unemployment rate of up to 40 percent.

“I don’t expect anything to change after these elections. I’m speaking out of experience,” said Jasna Jogunovic, 46, a marketing expert from Mostar.

However, many are willing to give it another try.

“I don’t believe my voice will change anything. Still, I will vote because the worst thing I can do is not to vote at all,” says Boris Lakic, 23, a student from Banja Luka.

Some 2.7 million people are eligible to vote Sunday for a total of 7,245 candidates throughout the country.

In the Bosniak-Croat half of the country, two candidates are running for the post of the Bosniak member of the presidency – Sulejman Tihic, from the main Party of Democratic Action, and Haris Silajdzic, the former prime minister. Both advocate a united Bosnia.

The two front-runners in the Serb part of the country appear to be Mladen Bosic, of the long-ruling Serb Democratic Party founded by war crimes fugitive Radovan Karadzic, and Nebojsa Radmanovic, representing the Union of Independent Social Democrats.

AP-ES-09-30-06 1530EDT


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.