Partial and unofficial results showed Karadzic's party had taken about 32 per cent of votes compared to 20 per cent for his more conciliatory and pro-Western rival, the Bosnian Serb president Biljana Plavsic.
The ultra-nationalistic Radicals, who are certain to support Karadzic in the pressing issue of his potential extradition to the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, came next with about 19.36 per cent. The Socialists, who may side with Mrs Plavsic, took about 12.24 per cent.
A majority in the 83-seat Bosnian Serb parliament for Karadzic would deal a massive blow to Western attempts to engineer a lasting peace in Bosnia between the Serbs and the Muslim-Croat federation. The hardliners reject both the 1995 Dayton peace accords for Bosnia, which divided the republic, and the workings of the Hague tribunal.
Mrs Plavsic's chances of salvation would seem to rest with the votes, yet to be counted, of the smaller parties. Many of those represent Muslims and Croats, expelled from Bosnian Serb-held land in the fratricidal war of 1992-95, but still entitled to vote.
If Bosnia emerges evenly split between the factions, there is a danger of the boomerang-shaped Bosnian Serb territory splitting, with Mrs Plavsic retaining the north-west and Karadzic the east. A hung result, or a Karadzic victory, might also jeopardise the security of the Nato-led international peace-keeping force in Bosnia.Reuse content