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Bosnians elect new leaders

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Bosnians voted in general elections on Sunday that will show whether people are more concerned about the 44-percent unemployment rate or still mired in wartime nationalist divisions.

Polls closed in the evening and election commission head Sjepan Mikic said based on information he is getting, the turnout will be higher than two years ago when more than 56 percent of 3.3 million eligible voters cast their ballots in local elections. Preliminary results will be announced early Monday.

The incumbent leader of the Serb half of the country based his campaign on promises of Serb secession and Russian support for it, while his opponents focused on fighting poverty and corruption.

The country’s Bosniacs and Croats, who share the other half, have their own nationalistic disputes but are also more focused on the economy.

But many in Bosnia believe it will be hard for anyone to raise the living standard and create jobs. During two decades of nationalistic quarrels, the country became one of the poorest and corrupt in Europe, and the broken promises after six post-war elections have made people believe their leaders don’t really care about them.

“To choose from what?” asked Janko Milovanovic, 54, from Banja Luka. “It’s like putting your hand into a bag of snakes and grabbing either a big one or a small one. You are choosing between death in a half-hour or in an hour.”

Whoever wins will for the next four years face the challenge of creating jobs in a country with one of the most complex bureaucracies in the world.

Voters were choosing more than 500 officials, including a three-member state presidency and parliament.

The country is divided in two self-administering regions. Voters in Republika Srpska will also vote for a president and a parliament of Republika Srpska. Voters in the Bosniac-Croat federation will chose lawmakers for their regional parliament and for parliaments of 10 cantons.

The constitution created several governments on various levels with overlapping authorities. A bit over 4 million people are governed by 162 ministers – one for every 26,000 citizens. The setup was a compromise made to stop the 1992-95 war over whether Bosnia should be divided among its three major groups or stay together.

All sides agree the system needs to be changed but they disagree on how. Bosnian Serb leaders say they would like an independent state. Muslim Bosniacs, the majority in the other region, seek a more centralized state. Catholic Bosnian Croats would like to have their own mini-state within Bosnia.

The average voter seems to have grown tired of decades of discussions over the country’s political future.

“We need pensions to increase, our youth to get jobs. We need change,” Sarajevo teacher Dubravka Duranovic said. SAPA

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