(Bloomberg) -- Voters in Bosnia-Herzegovina take to the polls on Sunday in an election that risks compounding the war-scarred nation’s ethnic fragmentation and stoking Serbian separatist ambitions.
Twenty-seven years after an international agreement ended the conflict and fused the Balkan country together, Bosnia remains divided into two ethnically defined entities and hampered by a weakened central government.
Voters will choose representatives for all levels of government, including the parliament in Sarajevo and the tripartite presidency in Bosnia’s complex power-sharing structure. Results are expected on Monday at the earliest.
Milorad Dodik, the leader of the Serbian entity known as Republika Srpska, is likely to shore up his power base, as he’s maintained ties with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and threatened to secede. That may contrast with divisions between Bosnian Muslims -- known as Bosniaks -- and Croats, who have protested that their candidate for the presidency has been sidelined.
“Antagonism between Bosniaks and Croats could erode the country’s ability to survive a separatist challenge by Serbs,” the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think-tank, wrote in a Sept. 26 report. “The dispute must be settled for the country to fend off a secessionist threat.”
Resolving the dispute has direct implications for Bosnia’s ambitions to join the European Union. The seemingly intractable divisions have bedeviled European and American negotiators who have labored to stabilize the nation of 3.3 million, which is suffering with the rest of the region under record inflation and the fallout from Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Frustrations were on full display earlier this year, when Christian Schmidt, a German conservative who is Bosnia’s top international envoy, erupted in front reporters querying him on his efforts to help introduce a new voting formula for Sunday’s ballot.
“Rubbish -- full rubbish!” Schmidt, who is tasked with implementing the 1995 Dayton agreement that ended the Bosnian war, exclaimed at an event in August. “We are not here just to make political games.”
Schmidt had attempted to force a change in arcane rules at the root of Croats’ complaint that their presidential candidate is shunted aside in favor of one chosen by Bosnian Muslims. Ethnic Croats, the smaller of those represented in the Muslim-Croat federation, have in the past threatened to boycott the election results if their candidate is defeated.
“Almost everything can be predicted in advance, except the outcome in the Bosnian Croat voting body,” said Zarko Puhovski, political science professor at the University of Zagreb.
Bosnian Muslims are likely to back their longtime leader, Bakir Izetbegovic, who counts Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as an ally.
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.
BNN Bloomberg Picks
Eric Nuttall's Top Picks: November 25, 2022
A muted Black Friday for Canadians amid inflation, online shopping and longer deals
Holiday shopping: Expert advice on finding deals and saving
Inflation relief measures should be well targeted and temporary, says Macklem
How stay-at-home spouses can build credit
Looking for tax-loss season bargains for 2023 and beyond: Berman