Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik casts his ballot at a polling station in Banja Luka, on October 12, 2014
Sarajevo (AFP) - Nationalist candidates from Bosnia's Croat, Muslim and Serb communities won the country's three-man presidency, election results showed Monday, underlining continued ethnic strains 20 years after the Balkan state's civil war.
With more than 90 percent of votes counted, Bakir Izetbegovic of the main Muslim SDA party and Dragan Covic of the Croat HDZ BIH party had won seats in the collective presidency.
The Serb seat remained undecided, with two nationalist candidates -- opposition figure Mladen Ivanic and Zeljka Cvijanovic of the Bosnian Serb ruling SNSD party -- neck and neck.
The unwieldy power-sharing arrangement is part of a political system created by the US-brokered Dayton peace accord that ended the 1992-95 ethnic war in which some 100,000 people were killed.
- Economic woe and nationalism -
Although Bosnia-Herzegovina has been at peace since that bloodletting, Sunday's election, which also included parliamentary polls, laid bare widespread discontent over the economy and division along ethnic lines.
About 3.3 million Bosnians were eligible to vote on Sunday, but turnout was 54 percent, about two percentage points lower than in 2010 polls, reflecting widespread disenchantment with what is seen as the country's corrupt and inefficient political class.
Unemployment is running at 44 percent and in February mass protests broke out against the government's failure to fight graft and enact the reforms required for Bosnia to join the European Union.
Political analyst Enver Kazaz said the slide into nationalism reflected disillusionment and would not help Bosnia fix its internal problems or speed up its EU aspirations.
"Due to lack of a competent choice and a serious political offer, citizens voted for a kind of the return to the 1990s," Kazaz said.
Today's "nationalists, those fake moderates, will not make war, but they will not hesitate to engage in political disputes" that damage the country's prospects.
Backing up the trend set in the presidential campaign, preliminary results for the 42-seat national assembly showed dominance by nationalist parties -- the Muslim SDA and the Serb SNSD.
Under the complex Bosnian system, voters additionally chose members of the assemblies that oversee the country's two semi-autonomous halves -- one the ethnic-Serb Republika Srpska and the other the Muslim-Croat Federation.
Finally, Serbs in their semi-autonomous region were also choosing a local president. Preliminary results showed the incumbent, Milorad Dodik, ahead by two points.
Dodik, a nationalist firebrand, has grabbed attention by calling for the secession of the ethnic-Serb area from the rest of Bosnia -- in other words renewing the kinds of aspirations that plunged Bosnians into the disastrous war in the 1990s.
Ivana Saric, a student from Sarajevo, said she had voted for a small, multi-ethnic party, but she doubted many others would have done the same.
"People are afraid to vote for major change, possibly because they are traumatised by the past. Twenty years ago they chose democracy. That brought them independence and then, later, war."
- EU deadlock -
Bosnia's economic doldrums formed a grim backdrop to the vote. Average monthly salaries are 415 euros ($525) and corruption that has plagued the country since its inception now costs taxpayers some 750 million euros annually, according to non-governmental organisations.
Major floods in May, which caused an estimated two billion euros in damage -- roughly 15 percent of Bosnia's gross domestic product -- have further aggravated the economic situation.
Bosnia's EU aspirations have been put on hold by political deadlock since 2006 due to ethnic tensions.
Politicians from the three major ethnic groups have failed to agree on reforms needed for membership in the 28-nation European bloc, leaving Bosnia lagging behind its fellow Balkan countries.
Ahead of the vote, the European Union said that Bosnians needed to pressure elected officials into bringing "much-needed reconciliation" and to "close the gap with rest of the region and ensure progress towards the EU".
Now the election is over, the winners have their work cut out, the Sarajevo-based Dnevni Avaz daily commented.
"No one can celebrate in this country. Those who won the largest number of votes will be put to the test," the newspaper said.
"If those parties don't take in the seriousness of the situation and the message sent by the population during February's protests, what will come next will be much more violent."