Electoral maze sets a record for complexity

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The Independent Online
The most complicated and chaotic election in modern European history takes place today, when Bosnians go to the post-war polls to elect a three- man national presidency, several parliamentary assemblies and a handful of cantonal governments. There are 2.9 million eligible voters and 24 parties are fielding candidates - but there is no real competition, for the vast majority of Serbs, Croats and Muslims are expected to vote along ethnic lines for the ruling party of each group.

The most important race is the election to the presidency, which will include one Serb, one Croat and one Muslim. Momcilo Krajisnik, right-hand man of the indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, is the undoubted choice of Serbs, who seek eternal partition and ethnic purity. Alija Izetbegovic, Bosnia's wartime president, is the man for most Muslims, while Kresimir Zubak is the Croats' candidate. Of the three, it seems likely that Mr Krajisnik, who has been steadfast in his determination to destroy Bosnia, will assume the chairmanship of the presidency.

This is because the Dayton peace plan prescribes that the post should go to the candidate who wins the most votes.

There are 1.35 million Muslim voters registered, 1.1 million Serbs and 530,000 Croats, but Mr Izetbegovic is not expected to be able to pick up the entire Muslim vote. People are voting in either the Muslim-Croat federation or Republika Srpska, the entities which make up the republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Voters in both must elect the three-man presidency and members of a Bosnian assembly. At the same time, voters in the federation and in the Serb region are choosing members for their own assemblies.

There are 850,000 voters displaced by war who no longer live where they did in 1991. They have the right to cast ballots, across the confrontation line, in the area they fled. Serb refugees have not only been discouraged but actively barred from exercising this right by their own leadership, which wants no Serb involvement in the federation.

But tens of thousands of Muslims, expelled from their homes, are planning to cross the line - physically or on paper - to vote, in an attempt to thwart Serb plans for partition and in the hope that they might one day go home.

The architects of the Dayton peace deal (the United States, supported by Russia and Europe), portrayed the poll as the saviour of a united multi- ethnic Bosnia, but it looks more likely to hasten final divisions. Mr Krajisnik's party is planning to call a referendum to break up Bosnia, while Mr Izetbegovic assures refugees that they will go home. Such positions are not only contradictory but will, if maintained, lead almost inevitably to a new war.