MOSTAR, Bosnia (Reuters) - Hundreds of demonstrators waving Croatian flags took to the streets of Mostar on Thursday to protest against the election of a moderate politician as the Croat member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, saying he did not represent them.
The protests came four days after elections dominated by nationalist campaigning by the main Bosnia’s Serb, Muslim and Croat parties - and highlighted the tensions now swirling around efforts to form a government.
A coalition led by the Croat nationalist party HDZ won the most votes of Croats in the Federation parliament and in the majority Croat cantons. However, its leader Dragan Covic lost the seat in the presidency to Zeljko Komsic, seen as a more moderate figure.
Members of Thursday’s crowd, some of whom arrived from other majority-Croat towns in Bosnia, told reporters they did not have any particular political affiliation.
But many said Komsic had only won because of the votes of Muslim Bosniaks - an assertion made by Covic after the vote.
Carrying placards with the slogan “Not My President”, they walked from the university in the Croat-held part of the ethnically-divided southern town to the presidency branch office, where they lit candles for what they said was a ‘dying democracy’ in the Balkan country.
Komsic, a Croat who advocates a multi-ethnic Bosnia and has already served two terms in the country’s tripartite inter-ethnic presidency, won with a high margin over Covic, who has campaigned on the creation of a separate Croat-run region within Bosnia.
The solid grip of ethnic parties has frustrated efforts to reform the economy and win Bosnia admission to Western organisations such as the European Union and NATO.
Under a peace deal that ended its 1992-95 war, Bosnia is split in two autonomous regions, the Federation dominated by Croats and Bosniaks and the Serb-dominated Serb Republic.
While the citizens in the Serb Republic can only vote for a Serb presidency member, citizens in the Federation can cast their ballots for Croat or Bosniak candidates alike.
Preliminary election results showed that Komsic secured support in majority Bosniak areas.
His election stirred angry reactions in neighbouring Croatia, whose Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic has said it was not good “that one people choose a representative of the other people”.
After conceding defeat to Komsic on the election night, Covic said that his election may cause an “unprecedented crisis”.
He was referring to the absence of election rules for the formation of the Federation parliament’s upper house, after Croat and Bosniak parties had failed to agree before the vote on how to change the election law in accordance to a ruling by a top court.
The Croats are the smallest of Bosnia’s three ethnic groups and feel endangered by majority Bosniaks, who on the other hand fear that Croat nationalists may try split the country further along ethnic lines.
Reporting by Denis Kapetanovic and Reuters TV, writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Andrew Heavens