ON A RECENT TRIP to Bosnia, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright warned Serbs, Croats and Muslims who still want to partition the country: "There will be no revision of the Dayton Accords."

Bosnia's third election in three years - one local, two national - is supposed to reaffirm the tortuous political system devised by U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke to keep the former Yugoslav republic intact after 31/2 years of ethnic war.Instead, it reinforces the ethnic divisions of Bosnia and demonstrates how unworkable Dayton really is. The only thing propping up the 1995 peace agreement is the presence of 32,000 NATO troops. And they are enforcing what amounts to a de facto partition.

On Saturday and Sunday, Bosnian voters will choose three national presidents, one representing each ethnic group; a regional president of that half of Bosnia known as the Serb Republic; a national parliament representing both the Serb Republic and the other part of Bosnia where Muslims and Croats have a federation of their own; and separate parliaments for each of the two territorial entities.

Confused? Don't worry, even the Bosnians are having difficulty grasping which government is which. And hundreds of candidates fielded by more than 30 political parties add to their befuddlement.

Even if they can figure out who is running for what, the Bosnians still are not trusted to manage their own democracy. This election, as the two before it, is being run by the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe. It has already banned 15 Bosnian Croat candidates and two Bosnian Serbs for being too inflammatory.

The first national election in 1996 was won by the very parties that plunged Bosnia into war, thus giving democratic legitimacy to those intent on partition. The second election in 1997, for 136 municipal councils, was likewise won by the same ethnically intolerant parties.

They remain the largest single parties vying in this election: the ultra-nationalist Serb SDS, still loyal to indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic; the Croat HDZ, still committed to merging part of the Muslim-Croat Federation into a "Greater Croatia"; and the Muslim SDA led by President Alija Izetbegovic, in charge of Bosnia's three-man presidency and committed to Muslim primacy.

Optimists point out that U.S. and European pressure helped sideline hard-line nationalist leaders in the Serb republic. Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic, a former protege of Karadzic, and moderate Prime Minister Milorad Dodik have received substantial Western financial aid since ousting the SDS last year.

But pessimists point out that the Serb member of Bosnia's presidency, Momcilo Krajisnik, is still a hard-liner, the moderates have only a two-seat majority in the Serb Republic's parliament and that Plavsic has had to harden her nationalist rhetoric to win Serbian votes. They also see little hope of moderates unseating hard-line Bosnian Muslims and Croats.

Refugee repatriation, one of Dayton's most glaring failures, is another huge problem. By now it was hoped that Bosnians who fled "ethnic cleansing" would have returned to their pre-war communities, making them more ethnically mixed and thus prone to reconciliation.

But Sadako Ogata, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, says 1.8 million people remain "displaced" because their homes have been destroyed, occupied by ethnic rivals or simply because they are too scared to return. NATO peacekeepers have not been able to prevent a high degree of intimidation in some communities.

Supporters of the Dayton Accord, mostly members of the Clinton administration and the West's top peace envoy in Bosnia, Carlos Westendorp, are optimistic that successive elections in Bosnia will gradually erode the influence of nationalist parties and lead to reconciliation.

But U.S. and European military commanders have been repeatedly warned by the army chiefs of all three ethnic groups that the Dayton accords will only survive as long as NATO troops remain in Bosnia.

And independent observers such as Christopher Bennett of the International Crisis Group point out that peace in Bosnia was achieved by "cheating on democracy" with military means, and elections are only needed "to ratify the new reality."