Concern over Ethiopian election result

Ethiopia’s ruling party and its allies won 99,6% of the parliamentary seats in Sunday’s election, according to preliminary results, raising serious questions over the country’s democratic direction.

The electoral board announced that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front party (EPRDF) secured 499 out of the 547 seats, with allied parties winning a further 35. Opposition candidates won just two seats. Results from some constituencies are still outstanding.

The result is a significant reversal from the 2005 poll, where the opposition made large gains despite questions over the fairness of the vote. The subsequent imprisonment or exile of opposition leaders, coupled with a curb on basic freedoms, meant that Sunday’s triumph for the ruling party was expected, though not its scale.

The victory means that Meles will have been in power in Africa’s second-most populous country for almost 25 years by the time of the next election. Addressing a crowd of tens of thousands from behind a bulletproof screen in the capital, Addis Ababa, he warned that opposition protests of the sort that saw 200 people killed — mostly by security forces — after the 2005 election would not be tolerated.

Meles vowed to work with the opposition on “matters of national concern” and asked foreign countries, which give Ethiopia more than £1billion a year in aid despite concerns over its poor human rights record, to accept the result. But the United States state department said this week that the election did not meet international standards, and the EU mission also qualified its opinion.

Its chief observer, Thijs Berman, said that, while the vote was peaceful and well-organised, he was concerned about the “sheer volume and consistency” of reports of intimidation and harassment in the lead-up.

He also criticised the use of state funds in the EPRDF campaign, saying: “Everyone was equal, but some were more equal than others.”

Berman added that, while these shortcomings may not have affected the overall outcome, there will be widespread scepticism over the extent of Meles’s victory.

In 2005, the EPRDF and its allies won 327 seats. The economy has grown since then and services such as health and education have been extended, which would have won Meles some new support. A lack of organisation and coherent policy proposals among the opposition, including the Medrek coalition that was expected to provide the stiffest challenge, also played into the government’s hands.

But at the same time, Meles’s clampdown on dissent, particularly in the media, among civil society groups and from opposition politicians, has caused widespread discontent, especially in urban centres. —

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