Bosnian Serbs vote in presidential elections
( AFP ) - Bosnian Serbs cast their ballots Sunday to choose a successor to their entity's late president Milan Jelic , as the Balkans country made its first step on the path towards the EU.
Some 1.1 million voters will choose between 10 candidates for president of Republika Srpska (RS), the Serb statelet that together with the Muslim-Croat Federation makes up post-war Bosnia.
Jelic , member of the ruling Union of Independent Social-Democrats (SNSD), died of a heart attack on September 30 less than a year after being elected president.
Rajko Kuzmanovic , a candidate of the SNSD, is seen as his most likely successor, since the party remains the most popular in the Serb-run entity.
A recent survey by the United Nations Development Programme showed the SNSD was backed by 45.9 percent of Bosnian Serb voters, ahead of the nationalist Serb Democratic Party (SDS) with 10.4 percent.
Although the candidates do not bring into question the goal of joining the EU, the preservation of the Republika Srpska tops their agenda.
Along with the Muslim-Croat entity, Republika Srpska is a highly autonomous region with its own president, government, parliament and police force. The two sides are linked by weak central institutions.
Serbs strongly oppose any weakening of their entity's powers in favour of central institutions, as is often required by the international community as a necessity for the country's European integration.
The elections are to be held just five days after Bosnia initialled a so-called Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the European Union.
The move has little legal value, only meaning that the two sides approve the content of the text, but is seen as the first symbolic step towards membership in the 27-nation bloc.
Bosnia had been the only country of the former Yugoslavia which had not any contractual relationship with Brussels.
Republika Srpska's 1,958 polling stations were to open at 7:00 am (0600 GMT) and close 12 hours later. The first preliminary results are expected to be announced at midnight (2300 GMT).