Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

High Turnout Reported at Bosnian Polls Envoy Says Country Is Hungry for Democracy

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

High Turnout Reported at Bosnian Polls Envoy Says Country Is Hungry for Democracy

Article excerpt

Overcoming fears of violence, Bosnians flooded polling stations Sunday to vote in local elections that could alter the divided country's ethnic map.

The unexpectedly high turnout in weekend voting forced election organizers to open additional polling stations. "It proves the hunger for democracy in this country," said Carlos Westendorp, the top international envoy in Bosnia.

The results of the voting - the first local elections in Bosnia since the end of its 3 1/2-year civil war - are not expected for days. But the number of refugees who crossed former front lines to cast ballots in their prewar hometowns suggests that the outcome may change Bosnia's political and ethnic landscape. David Forey, a spokesman for the Organization for Security and Co operation in Europe, estimated Sunday that 89 percent of those eligible to vote registered in their prewar hometowns. That could have serious repercussions in areas now controlled by other ethnic groups - if, as expected, refugees elect municipal officials from their own ethnic groups. Such a result would reverse losses suffered during the 1992-1995 civil war. The elections were one more step in a strategy by Western nations to force Bosnians of all ethnic backgrounds to coexist. Organizers have said that they won't certify the elections as free and fair unless local councils abide by the voters' wishes by the end of the year. Sanctions could be imposed to isolate communities that insist on continued separatism. That prospect clearly preoccupied Serb officials over the weekend as they watched buses full of Muslims pull up to vote and absentee ballots pour in from abroad. Observers said it would be difficult for Serbs and Muslims to work together on town councils. "It will be very, very hard," said Dragan Coric, a Serb judge who heads the Rogatica electoral commission. 400,000 Absentee Ballots Many refugees, fearing ethnic confrontations if they tried to return to their hometowns to vote, cast absentee ballots. …

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