Mostar Holds Peaceful
By Davor Huic
MOSTAR, Bosnia, July 1 (Reuters) - Western sponsors on Monday pronounced postwar elections in Mostar a success because they were peaceful, but the vote may ratify Muslim-Croat partition of the city rather than foster reunification as intended. Citizens including thousands of refugees voted on Sunday for a single city council in Mostar, a former ethnic slaughterhouse now split into Croat and Muslim sectors.
Mostar's temporary European Union administration was expected to release initial unofficial results on Monday with final official totals due on Wednesday or Thursday.
Tight security furnished by NATO peace troops, access for war refugees to ballot boxes in former home districts and a phalanx of Western poll observers helped ensure the elections were peaceful, free and fair, EU officials said.
"The elections are no doubt a success for the (temporary) EU administration (in Mostar), a success for Mostarians and a success for the peace process," said Michael Steiner, deputy to Carl Bildt, international High Representative in Bosnia. "It shows that if we have minimal conditions, elections in this country are possible," he told reporters in Sarajevo.
The ethnic chasm afflicting Mostar mirrors Bosnia at large, and Western architects of the Dayton peace treaty hope Sunday's vote for a reunited city will be a model for countrywide elections to be held on September 14. But the most that can be hoped for from both elections in the near term may be solely a worthy exercise in democracy -- because Dayton's stated goal of reintegrating Bosnia is blocked by separatist nationalist parties running the political show.
In Mostar, pre-election polls indicated Croats would vote overwhelmingly for the nationalist HDZ party which rules the city's western half as "capital" of a breakaway mini-republic carved out during war in southwest Bosnia.
Most Muslims in east Mostar were expected to endorse the SDA party of Alija Izetbegovic, president of Bosnia's Muslim-led central government in Sarajevo. Its official goal is the restoration of pre-war multi-ethnic Bosnia. But the SDA's growing Islamic nationalism, which has led to retaliatory persecution of non-Muslims in central Bosnia, has proved grist to the mill of Croat and Serb parties who fought to dismember Bosnia and now hold around 70 percent of it.
Moderate, non-ethnic parties dedicated to an integral Mostar and Bosnia also fielded candidates but they were largely drowned out by the incompatible campaigns of the HDZ and SDA.
Close to 100,000 people, including war exiles who were bused in with EU escorts, were eligible to vote. The Croat-Muslim war that devastated Mostar in 1993-94 left it with two mayors, two flags, two currencies and two kinds of car number plates. West Mostar, with its breakaway hinterland, has turned into a virtual annex of Croatia.
Citizens voted for a single city council -- 16 seats each for Muslims and Croats and a few more for smaller minorities.
But Croat authorities in west Mostar, backed by Croatia, openly repudiated the EU's agenda of reunification, suggesting they would not recognise the powers of a joint council.
EU administration officials chose on Monday to emphasise the positive conduct of the election, quite aside from whether it was a real recipe for ethnic reintegration.
"We did not have any (violent) incidents worth mentioning ... so it is clear that the measures of security we took were very very good and prevented all people who tried to create incidents from doing so,'' said EU spokesman Dragan Gasic.
"We are happy that many people showed up, more than we expected. So we are very satisfied with the elections. (They) show that if we can make enough pressure, elections in the whole of Bosnia-Herzegovina are possible."
EU polling observer Tom Walker said that the elections were a hopeful sign for September but that NATO's tight security measures could not be repeated right across Bosnia. "These elections were cosmetic in that sense," he said.
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Berserkistan, June 27 · Sundayís Elections in Mostar: Flawed but Safe, Hopes EU
Berserkistan, June 27 · Returning Refugee Finds Mostar on Edge, Mistrustful
Berserkistan, June 25 · Mostar Elections: Dry Run for Bosnian Democracy
Berserkistan, June 24 · Bosnian Croats Expect Elections to Cement Mostar Divisions
Berserkistan, June 23 · Banking on Mostarís Elections to Lead the Reunification of Bosnia
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