bosnia referendum, banja luka.jpg
Photograph: HINA / Tanja VALIČ/ TANJUG / mm

Some 625,000 people went to the polls until 1700 hrs Sunday for a disputed referendum which the Bosnian Serb leadership organised despite the country's Constitutional Ccurt ban, and thus before the closing of polling stations set for 1900 hrs, the number of voters that turned out for the referendum exceeded the threshold of 50%.

According to the chairman of the commission in charge of organising the referendum on the selection of the entity's official holiday, the turnout was 51.7%, and the threshold for declaring the referendum valid is 50%.

The returns from the polling stations will be collected by 2100 hrs, according to the commission.

In the referendum vote residents of the Serb entity are asked to say whether they are in favour of celebrating the entity day on 9 January, despite the state-level Constitutional Court's decision to declare the holiday illegal and despite the court's recent ban on the referendum.

When declaring the Rupublika Srpska Day illegal in 2015, the Constitutional Court bore in mind that January 9 was evocative of a day in 1992 when a part of Serb deputies in the then parliament of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina unlawfully declared a republic of the Serb people in Bosnia and Herzegovina requesting "territorial demarcation" in relation to Croats and Bosniaks and the integration of the Serb-dominated territory with Serbia. The Serb deputies' behaviour heralded an attempted secession that led to the 1992-1995 war in the country.

Also, the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina ruled in November 2015 that marking January 9 as Republika Srpska Day was not in line with the country's constitution because it discriminated against Bosniaks and Croats living in that entity.

The insistence of the Bosnian Serb leadership on the referendum and on the disputed holiday has also elicited criticism from the most influential Western countries. Officials of Serbia have distanced themselves from the vote. Russian Ambassador Petr Ivantsov was the only one to support the Serb entity, saying that for his country it was a people's inalienable right to organise such a vote.

The referendum was also surrounded by controversial statistics of voters eligible to vote. The Sarajevo-based Central Election Commission has refused to provide the entity authorities with voters' rosters. The entity authorities have then resorted to data from police records based on place of residence and claim that over 1.2 million residents are eligible to vote in this referendum.

Bosnian Muslim (Bosniak) leaders have called on Bosnianks to boycott the vote.

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