Early election returns Monday showed the leader of the Bosnian Muslims and a Serb nationalist vying to head a three-member presidency that aims to hold Bosnia together.
The candidate who gets the most votes overall and leads the presidency could determine whether Bosnia splits apart into separate ethnic republics or hangs on as one nation.
It was far too early to predict the winner - only a fraction of the 109 electoral districts were reporting partial results for the presidency by Monday evening.
Robert Frowick, the American diplomat overseeing the elections, said final results for the presidency would not come before Tuesday. Results in other contests in the two halves of Bosnia are expected even later.
Voters in Saturday’s first postwar national elections could choose only one of the 16 candidates for the presidency. The top Muslim, Croat and Serb candidates will comprise the presidency; the top choice overall will be chairman for two years.
Preliminary results released Monday show Bosnia’s President Alija Izetbegovic as the top choice of Muslims, who dominate Bosnia’s Croat-Muslim federation. Ahead in the Serb half of Bosnia was nationalist Momcilo Krajisnik.
If Izetbegovic wins, he is expected to press for a unified Bosnia, while Krajisnik favors having Serb areas of Bosnia join Serbia.
Most Bosnian Croats were voting for the main Croat candidate, Kresimir Zubak. With Croats outnumbered by Serbs and Muslims, their candidate was sure to come in third.
Though presidency decisions are supposed to be mutual, the chairman will be considered first among equals and therefore have a greater voice than his other two colleagues.
The chief election monitor for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which staged the elections, said Monday that Bosnia’s future was on the line.
“Whether the election leads to integration or disintegration will only become clear as immediate events unfold,” Eduard Van Thijn said.