Thousands of ruling party supporters streamed into a square in Ethiopia’s capital on Tuesday to celebrate a peaceful election win for Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and reject opposition and rights groups accusations of vote rigging.
Waving Ethiopian flags, wearing ruling party T-shirts and baseball caps, and holding photographs of Meles aloft, supporters sang: “Respect out vote, respect our decision, respect our choice.”
The government of this key Washington ally in the region has warned that any politicians who try to spark post-election violence will be held responsible. Opposition leaders were jailed en masse after bloody chaos followed Meles’ 2005 victory.
Placards in the national colours of green, yellow and red were handed out as people massed in Meskel Square to praise the landslide victory by the former bush guerrilla leader, with many written in English as well as the Amharic language.
The posters in English said: “Stop second guessing us!”, “Respect our sovereign voice”, “Our votes are not for sale” and “We choose our leader, no one else.”
Results released by Ethiopia’s electoral board on Monday, showed that the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and allies won an overwhelming number of votes in nine out of 11 regions and cities to declare so far.
The EPRDF crushed the eight-party opposition coalition known as Medrek in Oromia, the country’s most populous region and traditionally a stronghold for opponents.
The final official results are due on June 21.
Meles told Reuters in an interview on Sunday his party would win as it had presided over seven years of double-digit growth and had begun to reform the political and judicial landscape in this growing destination for foreign direct investment.
While nearly 10% of the population relied on emergency food aid last year, the government has invested heavily in infrastructure and Meles now wants to step up power production, improve telecommunications and develop industry.
Some opposition leaders began complaining the election was flawed before polling booths closed, saying the EPRDF had routinely intimidated and harassed critics in the days and months ahead of the election.
European Union election observers said on Sunday the poll was peaceful and calm, albeit with some claims of irregularities that needed to be checked. They are due to give a preliminary verdict on Tuesday morning.
Analysts said if the poll were given a clean bill of health by EU observers there would be little momentum for critics to mount a convincing challenge.
If the EU said the poll was flawed, however, it might embolden the opposition to challenge the result and take to the streets in protest as they did in 2005.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Monday that observers should condemn voter intimidation, drawing a sharp response from the government which said the group was an instrument of those wanting to interfere in independent states.
Water cannon trucks were parked either side of Meskel Square and Federal Police searched people as they arrived. All roads leading into the square were closed.
Ethiopians say Meskel Square is where all roads meet in Addis Ababa and it has been the scene of historic moments in the Horn of Africa country’s past.
It was where dictator Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam smashed a red vial to signal the start of the “Red Terror” purges of his opponents. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed before he fled the country in 1991.
It was also where the opposition coalition fighting the 2005 election staged a mass rally.
The 2005 poll descended into riots that killed 193 protesters and seven policemen when a different opposition coalition said it was cheated of victory after a campaign which captured the imagination of many Ethiopians. – Reuters