MOSTAR, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Voting has ended in the first local election held in 12 years in Bosnia’s southern city of Mostar famed for its picturesque Ottoman architecture and its deep ethnic divisions.
About 100,000 people were eligible to vote Sunday for 35 city councilors, but only about 40% had cast their ballots by 4 p.m. local time (1500 GMT), three hours before 150 polling stations around the city closed. The first preliminary results were expected overnight.
Mostar is split between Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats, who fought fiercely for control over the city during the country’s 1992-95 war. The city hasn’t held a local election since 2008, when Bosnia’s constitutional court declared its election rules to be discriminatory and ordered that they be changed.
The dominant nationalist Bosniak and Croat political parties — the SDA and the HDZ, respectively — have spent over a decade failing to agree about how to do that. Throughout that time, the city has seen its infrastructure crumble, with trash repeatedly piling up on its streets and thousands of its citizens leaving for good in search of a better life abroad.
The dispute was resolved in June, months after the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of a local teacher, Irma Baralija, who sued Bosnia for discrimination for its failure to hold a local election in Mostar.
“Our hope is that life (in Mostar) will improve … we want (Mostar) to be like before (the war),” Ramiz Coric said after casting his ballot.
Prior to the war, ethnically mixed couples made up 10% of all marriages in Mostar, and the city was markedly cosmopolitan. During the war, Croats moved to the western side and Bosniaks to the east. Since the fighting stopped, the city has had two post offices, two electricity and water suppliers, two phone networks, two public hospitals and more — one crumbling set for each ethnic group.
“It was about time. We waited too long,” to be allowed to elect local legislators, another voter, Mirsad Celebic said, adding he didn’t dare predict who might win: “We’ll see.”
Alongside the two dominant parties, which hope to retain the power they have had over the last 12 years, several smaller, multi-ethnic parties were vying Sunday for seats in the city council. Irma Baralija, widely credited locally with helping Mostar citizens win back their right to vote and run in local elections, was herself running for the city council on the ticket of the small, multi-ethnic Our Party.