On the eve of parliamentary elections, three candidates from the ruling Bosnian Serb party were disqualified Friday for displaying posters of war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, responsible for supervising the balloting today and Sunday, removed the three from the roster of the Serb Democratic Party and warned it would disqualify two more candidates each day the posters remained up.
Karadzic, the wartime Bosnia Serb leader under indictment by a U.N. tribunal, withdrew from public life last year under international pressure but continues to wield immense influence behind the scenes. OSCE election rules ban his image from campaign advertising.
The party denied it put up the posters and instead blamed opponents who it claimed were trying to discredit the Serb Democrats. It demanded that the decision to disqualify the candidates be reversed, the Belgrade-based independent Beta news agency reported.
The three candidates were not major figures and their departure was not expected to have much impact, since Bosnian voters have loyalties to parties rather than individuals.
The election for the parliament of the Serb-ruled half of Bosnia has shaped up as a struggle between two feuding factions: one loyal to Karadzic and the other to his rival, President Biljana Plavsic.
A former Karadzic follower herself, Plavsic remains an ardent Serb nationalist but has won the support of international officials for backing the Dayton peace accords that ended Bosnia’s 3-1/2-year war.
Plavsic dissolved parliament in July, saying it was taking its orders from “the informal centers of power” - Karadzic.
International officials had hoped the elections would help crystallize popular support for Plavsic and cut into the hard-liners’ grip on parliament.
While Plavsic is expected to gain a number of seats in the 83-member parliament, she’s unlikely to have much support from other opposition parties or change the balance of power.
About 30 parties are running. Because a large number of refugees will vote from abroad, no results will be announced until about Dec. 10.
More than 1 million people are eligible to vote. NATO officials have said the peace force will beef up its presence across the country to prevent any possible incidents at the 1,255 polling stations.
The political divide coincides with a geographical split of the Serb-held territory, with Plavsic based in Banja Luka and Karadzic loyalists in Pale, east of Sarajevo.
The pro-Karadzic Serb Democratic Party, which won an absolute majority in 1996, looks likely to lose support. It was stripped of one of its main tools last month when international officials shut down its radio and television station in Pale because of what they charged was inflammatory reporting.
Plavsic supporters, meanwhile, have continued to broadcast from Banja Luka.
One party likely to gain is the extreme nationalist Radicals, and the question is whether they and Karadzic’s supporters can win a majority.
Serb power could be diluted by Muslims who fled territories now in Serb hands but are still registered to vote there. They are likely to support Muslim-led parties.
Halid Genjac, an official of the main Muslim party, the Party for Democratic Action, predicted his party would get about 20 percent of the vote and indicated it could support Plavsic.