Muslim Leader Appears to Be Top Bosnia Vote-Getter

Share via

The Muslim president of Bosnia was emerging Tuesday night as the top vote-getter in this country’s first postwar election and was headed for a seat in the new three-person presidency designed to force enemies to share power.

Election officials said that if trends hold, President Alija Izetbegovic will narrowly surpass Momcilo Krajisnik, a hard-line Bosnian Serb nationalist who campaigned on the promise of Serbian secession. Krajisnik would take the second spot in the collective presidency.

The two men’s ability to work together will be decisive in determining the future stability of a country where Muslims, Serbs and Croats battled for 43 months--killing more than 200,000 people--before a U.S.-brokered accord and 60,000 North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led troops brought a fragile peace.


Overall, and as expected, the three ethnic-based nationalist parties that took Bosnia-Herzegovina to war were leading in a vote count that has been unusually slow. U.S.-backed opposition parties were for the most part running poor seconds.

Both Izetbegovic and Krajisnik were assured seats in the presidency; the issue now is which of them will take the highest number of votes and win the chairmanship--and the symbolic and real power that goes with it.

The prospect of a victory by Krajisnik, a close ally of indicted war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic, had alarmed the Muslim-led Sarajevo government and especially U.S. officials involved in carrying out the Dayton, Ohio, peace plan and the next complicated phase of building government institutions.

“The idea of Krajisnik [in the lead] would be very difficult for the [Muslims] to swallow,” said a senior U.S. official. “Even without that . . . it will be a major challenge to get all of the parties to play along.”

Under the constitution framed in the peace accord, the Bosnian Serb half of this country elects the Serbian member of the presidency, and the other half, the Muslim-Croat federation, elects a Muslim and a Croat--bowing to the ethnic partition that most analysts consider irreversible.

Robert H. Frowick, the U.S. diplomat in charge of supervising the election, announced preliminary results Tuesday night that gave an edge to Izetbegovic of 121,413 votes over Krajisnik’s total. Izetbegovic had roughly 80% of the vote cast for Muslim candidates; Krajisnik had more than 70% of the vote for Bosnian Serb candidates.


The count “has developed into a pattern that seems increasingly clear,” Frowick said.

Where Izetbegovic faced only a token challenge by a former prime minister who did not do as well as expected, Krajisnik appeared to have been hurt by a late and surprising surge by rival Bosnian Serb candidate Mladen Ivanic.

Ivanic represented a socialist-led coalition backed by Slobodan Milosevic, the president of neighboring Serbia, and was part of a fledgling opposition movement based in the Bosnian Serb city of Banja Luka that hoped to challenge Karadzic’s Serbian Democratic Party and its iron-tight grasp on power.

The Bosnian Serb opposition in Banja Luka had attracted interest and support from U.S. and European envoys attempting to build a counterweight to Karadzic, Krajisnik and their fellow hard-liners. Ivanic had languished in early returns, but suddenly Tuesday night his count tripled.

The third seat in the presidency will go to Bosnian Croat leader Kresimir Zubak.

Now, Western officials turn to the difficult job of persuading victorious nationalist parties to cooperate in shared institutions meant to re-create a nation. In addition to the collective presidency, a 42-member House of Representatives--divided into ethnic thirds--was also voted on in Saturday’s elections. (Those results have not yet been tabulated.)

History has taught longtime observers of the Balkans that the chances for real cooperation are slim. The constitution, for example, requires decisions by the presidency to be made by consensus, opening the door to obstruction by any party and governmental gridlock--a nightmare scenario reminiscent of the months before the war began, when a similar system of ethnic-quota joint institutions plunged the emergent country into chaos.

“With all of that, and the past refusal to cooperate, it is hard to see the institutions working for even the first year,” said a European diplomat. “They are a nonstarter. The question is what type of pressure the international community can generate on the Serbs and Croats to make them acquiesce.”


Krajisnik has gone so far as to refuse to come to Sarajevo to sit in the collective presidency, insisting instead that a new presidential office be constructed along the ethnic boundary that divides Bosnia.

Although he toned down his rhetoric late in the campaign because of Western pressure, Krajisnik made no secret of his support for a separate Bosnian Serb nation. International election officials forbade talk of secession, but the Serbs ignored the ban until the end.

“Our [Bosnian Serb] republic is like a 16-year-old girl with curly hair and blue eyes,” Krajisnik told one of his last campaign rallies, “the most beautiful creature that we will prepare and marry into the union of Serb states.”

A Bosnian source close to Izetbegovic acknowledged that the Muslim leader will find it difficult to sit alongside Krajisnik, whom the Sarajevo government regards as nothing less than a war criminal. Difficult, but inevitable. “Krajisnik is a tough negotiator, but he’s the best we can get from the Serb leadership,” said the official.

U.S. and other Western officials, including Richard Holbrooke, architect of the Dayton plan, have met repeatedly with senior Bosnian Serb leaders to tell them they will not be allowed to secede.

Tuesday, as results were slowly becoming known, one of Sarajevo’s most popular phone-in radio programs was dedicated to discussion of the winners. Callers were more disgusted with the whole political scene than with the prospect of Krajisnik sitting in the presidency.


“Those three [Izetbegovic, Krajisnik and Zubak] are the representatives of parties that will continue to do what they have been doing the last four years,” said one man. “Maybe they will push us again to wear our [military] uniforms.”

A woman complained: “We are such animals that we voted again for the nationalist parties. So let them put out the red carpet and make coffee for [Krajisnik]. All the politicians should be ashamed.”