May 15, 2005

Ethiopia Ruling Party Claims Win in Contested Elections

Election observers from the European Union found several irregularities, especially in the hotly contested capital, Addis Ababa, where hundreds of pre-marked ballots had been found
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Sunday's election in Ethiopia saw a large voter turnout, maybe up to 90 percent, according to the National Electoral Board. While obververs expect Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to win his third five-year term, the opposition claims to have made major gains, espacially in the capital.

Ethiopians yesterday flocked to the country's many polling stations, patiently standing in line to exercise their democratic rights. The large turnout was seen as a sign that this year's general elections were carried out in a more democratic and transparent manner than in 2000, giving the opposition a real chance to make advances.

According to the National Electoral Board's leader Kemal Bedri, turnout may have reached 90 percent out of Ethiopia's 25 million registered voters. The large queues at many polling stations caused many to widen their opening hours to allow all to vote.

While Prime Minister Meles signalled that the large voter turnout was a victory for his democratisation policies, several opposition parties however have complained of widespread harassment of their sympathisers and election monitors. Some monitors had been arrested, the opposition claimed.

So far, however, the many foreign election observers present in Ethiopia have been mostly positive on this poll exercise. Former US President Jimmy Carter, whose organisation had 24 observer teams on the ground, said that there had been registered minor problems in the run-up to the vote, but the elections in general were "as good as any we have seen." Mr Carter further noted there had been a "great progress ... towards democracy."

Election observers from the European Union (EU) also had found several irregularities, especially in the hotly contested capital, Addis Ababa, where hundreds of pre-marked ballots had been found. In general, also EU observers found Sunday's poll to have been a great progress since the controversial elections in 2000.

The opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy - which currently only has three seats in the Addis Ababa parliament - today claimed to have made great advances in yesterday's polls. CUD leader Hailu Shawel, basing himself on information from the party's election observers, claimed the CUD had won all 23 seats of the capital. In total, Mr Shawel said, his party expected to get some 59 seats in the new parliament.

Prime Minister Meles however is widely expected to win also this election. His ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front still has a large support in rular areas, which house a great majority of Ethiopians. Most of the contested 547 parliamentary seats are from rural areas where the ruling PRDP is favourite to win.

Results were originally expected to start ticking in today, but the National Electoral Board now already counts on delays due to the high voter turnout. The first preliminary results may be published already tomorrow, according to the Board.

According to the Board and international election observers, Sunday's poll generally went peaceful. This also included the troubled Oromia region, which has been plagued by a low-scale armed struggle for over one decade. In Oromia, the ruling Oromo Peoples' Democratic Organisation (OPDO) is expected to maintain its grip on power, following what human rights groups characterise as gross repression of opposition voices.

Source: Afrol