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Ethiopia readies for elections but outcome not in doubt

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ethiopia mapEthiopia, Africa’s second-most populous country, readied Saturday for the first general election since the death of strongman Meles Zenawi, whose successor Hailemariam Desalegn is all but certain to stay in office.

Over 36.8 million Ethiopians have registered for Sunday’s polls, but on Saturday life in capital Addis Ababa went on as normal. Apart from a few military vehicles at occasional crossroads, there was little sign that key elections were to be held the next day.

Analysts say the election falls far short of open competition.

“Electoral defeat is not on the cards for Ethiopia’s ruling party, but it is vital for the country’s development that it engages more effectively with dissenting voices,” said Jason Mosely, from Britain’s Chatham House think tank.

The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has been in power for over two decades and is confident of a win, but insists the result will be decided on its economic record alone. Ethiopia is now one of Africa’s top performing economies and a magnet for foreign investment.

Rights groups — which routinely accuse Ethiopia of clamping down on opposition supporters and journalists, and of using anti-terrorism laws to silence dissent and jail critics — said Saturday the polls would not be free or fair due to a lack of freedom of speech.

Addis Ababa dismisses such criticism, with government spokesman Redwan Hussein telling AFP that voters would choose their representatives based on performance.

“If they want to give us another chance they will vote for us,” he said. “If they have a grudge, they will not give their vote to EPRDF.”

Polls open at 8:00 am (0500 GMT) on Sunday and close at 6:00 pm (1500 GMT), with initial results expected within two to five days, and final official tallies on June 22.

Ethiopia, whose 1984 famine triggered a major global fundraising effort, has experienced annual economic growth of more than 10 percent over the last five years, according to the World Bank.

Former Marxist rebel-turned-leader Meles, who died in 2012, was succeeded by Prime Minister Hailemariam, who has said he is committed to opening up the country’s political system to allow more space for opposition parties.

– ‘Exceptional’ democracy? –

The opposition accuses the government of using authoritarian tactics to ensure a poll victory.

“The political space has been closed,” said Yilekal Getinet, leader of Semayawi — the “Blue Party” in Ethiopia’s Amharic language, and one of the nation’s main opposition parties.

Such complaints are dismissed as “baseless” by the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE).

“The environment created for political parties this year is exceptional,” NEBE president Merga Bekana said.

The Election Commission will deploy some 40,000 observers at 45,795 polling stations.

The only foreign election observers are from the African Union, which has sent a team of 59 officials. The European Union and the US-based Carter Center, which monitored 2005 and 2010 elections, were not invited back this time.

Candidates from 58 parties are running for office, but each must go through a system of drawing lots organised by the NEBE to limit the number of candidates to 12 per constituency.

Critics say the system is designed to hamper the main challengers. Semayawi, for example, had 456 applicants, but only 139 were allowed on final ballot lists.

“While symbolically significant… the polls are more of a logistical hurdle for the ruling party than a competitive, democratic exercise,” Mosely said.

The ruling EPRDF won 2010 elections in a landslide. Those polls were peaceful, in contrast with 2005, when opposition accusations of irregularities sparked violence that left 200 people dead. The opposition won 172 seats in that vote, but only one in 2010.

This time, that solitary incumbent opposition MP has chosen not to run again. Meanwhile, polls in the constituency of the single independent legislator seeking reelection were postponed Friday, after he complained there had not been “enough time and space” for campaigning.


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1 Comment
  • ተስፋዬ

    Think of it this way. After a humiliating defeat in the 2005 elections the ruling party publicly vowed that no opposition will be allowed in the country henceforth. It quickly run through parliament an “anti-terrorism” law de-registering civil societies it did not approve of and began a campaign of shutting down private press and jailing or exiling journalists. This is all part of a yearly State Department report. The ruling party is also mired in untold corruption and a greatly expanded jail system [more than in the days of the fascist Derg regime]. The interesting thing is that it cleverly exploited US/UK fears of regional issues to remain in power and receive properly unaccounted for billions of taxpayers’ dollars [American public of course has no clue this is going on].

    Donors look for quantifiable reports of some progress. Ethiopian rulers are not idiots. They went on a construction binge in the capital thus satisfying donor visual demands [whereas no one has thought of asking who really owns those buildings or if the public is benefiting from them].

    Here is my challenge to Ethiopian rulers. If indeed there has been “fastest growth” and stability in the country then why not allow a group of independent journalists to travel to different regions of the country, take pictures and report to donor publics. That is only fair and a good public relations scoop! Of course those same journalists could travel to the Middle East [where there are over a million young Ethiopians, mostly women], South Africa, etc and ask why these left their own country at great risk to their lives.

    Obama Administration few weeks ago praised “democracy” in Ethiopia predicting it is going to be fair [of course it is a lie]. The interesting thing is that this cycle of elections began in December 2014. Party cadres were already registering the elderly and informing the public to remain at home because “there could be disturbances” on election day. Good foreign reporters like yourself would be limited by language, culture, budget and importance to the papers you work for to fully cover and follow-up on issues in places such as Ethiopia.

    The worrying development is that Ethiopians are now talking openly that the ruling party has not left them space for a peaceful struggle. Just this week a conference was held to consider taking up arms. It is unfortunate that US political leaders failed to adequately represent American ideals of freedom, rule of law, and constitutional democracy. Remember the same mistakes in the Middle East are costing lives and resources, remaining a constant threat to our liberty.

    Ethiopian rulers have always responded in three ways to charges of corruption, human rights abuses and fictitious “growth” figures. Deny, lie, and use force. The end result is that people suffer and live in constant fear. Shall we say that’s ok?