The son of Bosnia's wartime Muslim leader was set to become one of its three presidents, election results showed on Monday, and analysts said he seemed ready to work with other ethnic groups in the divided country.
The election, watched by the West for signs whether Bosnia will move toward the EU and NATO or sink deeper into stagnation, was marred when officials said they would probe possible fraud in voting for the Serb presidency member.
Since the last election in 2006, mistrust has deepened between nationalist Croat, Serb and Muslim leaders, and political gaps have widened between the country's two autonomous regions, the Muslim-Croat federation and the Serb Republic.
The late wartime President Alija Izetbegovic's son Bakir, seen as more prepared to work with other ethnic groups than incumbent Haris Silajdzic, led the race for the presidency's Muslim seat with more than 80 percent of Sunday's votes counted.
"We are going to stabilize the situation in Bosnia and to bring a better future to the citizens of Bosnia," Izetbegovic told Reuters Television. "This means the peace, better conditions for development of economy and employment."
According to early returns and party claims, the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) of Milorad Dodik, who threatened secession from Bosnia during the election campaign, was far ahead in the Serb half of the Balkan country.
But the SNSD's candidate for the Serb seat of the tripartite presidency, Nebojsa Radmanovic, was only three percent in front of the next candidate after 70 percent votes were counted. Thirteen percent of ballots were ruled to be void.
"A total of 13.24 percent of void ballots in the race for the Serb presidency member indicates a possibility of fraud and will have to be thoroughly investigated," Suad Arnautovic, an election commission member, told a news conference.
Since the 1992-95 war that killed about 100,000 people, Bosnia has held five elections but has lagged in political and economic reforms and remains near the back of the queue of Western Balkan nations aspiring to EU and NATO entry.
Dodik's main rival had been Silajdzic, Bosnia's wartime foreign and prime minister, and analysts said their animosity had put reforms needed for EU and NATO integration on hold.
The economy, which produced double-digit growth after the war as $15 billion in international aid flowed in, has been slowed in the past few years by burdensome administration, corruption and bickering politicians.
Social Democratic candidate Zeljko Komsic was far ahead in his re-election for the Croat seat in the tripartite presidency, even though his victory was disputed by Croat nationalists who said he earned it thanks to Muslim, not Croat votes.
Both Izetbegovic's SDA party and Komsic's SDP claimed victory in the Muslim-Croat federation parliamentary vote.
Voters cast ballots for Serb, Croat and Muslim presidency members and deputies in the central, regional and cantonal parliaments, as well as a new president and vice-president of the Serb Republic.
The preliminary turnout figure was 56.3 percent, compared with 55.3 percent in 2006.
"(The election) is the sign of maturity and a good sign for democracy in this country," said Valentin Inzko, the international envoy who holds protectorate powers in Bosnia.
"I hope this will bring about the changes in this country, because if there are no changes the elections are not necessary," said Inzko, an Austrian diplomat.
Bosnia, a country of nearly 3.9 million people in the heart of the Balkans, has forests, coal and rapid rivers that make it the region's sole power exporter.