SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Bosnians voted Sunday in nationwide municipal elections amid concerns that the turnout will be hurt by a major surge in coronavirus infections and deaths.
Some 3 million people were eligible to vote in the small Balkan nation, which has been uneasily split between its three main ethnic groups — Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims — since the end of the 1992-95 war. Voters were choosing mayors and municipal councils in both of the country’s two semi-autonomous regions — the Serb-run Republika Srpska and the Bosnian Muslim-Croat Federation.
Although the elections are local, many believe they will pave the way for new overall leadership of the ethically split country due to public dissatisfaction with how nationalist and right-wing parties at all levels of government have dealt with the coronavirus pandemic.
Social distancing rules remain, wearing face masks is compulsory in public and voters were instructed to wash their hands and had their temperature taken before voting. Over 170 mobile polling teams were taking ballots to citizens who had been ordered to quarantine after getting infected.
The number of coronavirus cases in Bosnia has been rising sharply in recent weeks, with nearly a third of all infections registered just this month. So far, the country of 3.5 million people has tallied close to 72,000 virus cases and nearly 1,900 deaths, and its death rate continues to rise.
The pandemic has amplified Bosnia’s many problems, including an extreme shortage of doctors and nurses and rampant public corruption. A number of prominent government officials of different ethnic backgrounds are under investigation on suspicion of malfeasance in the procurement of desperately needed medical equipment.
Public resentment over the mishandling of the pandemic is expected to turn voters away from the largest, corruption-prone Bosnian Muslim, Croat and Serb nationalist parties that have dominated the country’s political scene for most of the 25 years since the war.
In Bosnia's largest cities, opposition parties, despite their ideological differences, were closing ranks and campaigning on bread-and-butter issues rather than stoking ethnic tensions. In some cities, including the capital of Sarajevo, opposition parties even united with a common platform and jointly fielded candidates.
However, lower voting turnout has historically benefited Bosnia's dominant nationalist parties and the fear of being infected at the polls is likely to keep many voters at home.
First official preliminary results are expected overnight Sunday.