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Ethiopia: Election Reports, Commentary

AfricaFocus Bulletin
May 30, 2005 (050530)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

Provisional results from the national election board show a majority for the ruling party in Ethiopia's May 15 parliamentary election, but also significant gains for opposition groups, particularly in the capital Addis Ababa. Initial reports from observers had highlighted the high turnout (over 90%) and the relative calm of election day. However, opposition parties are also claiming victory, with many charges of fraud yet to be investigated. Critics have charged the international community with turning a blind eye to intimidation and fraud by the government.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains two recent reports from the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a critical commentary from an Ethiopian professional living in Kenya, and excerpts from an early May press release from Human Rights Watch calling for attention to systematic repression in the southern Oromo-speaking region.

The official site of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia is http://www.electionsethiopia.org

For additional detailed election reports, visit
http://www.ethiopianreview.com

More news and critical commentary, including reports on demonstrations and petitions demanding further investigation into election fraud, are available on http://www.ethiomedia.com

An initial election report from the Carter Center, which critics have termed complacently indifferent to allegations of intimidation and fraud, is available at http://www.cartercenter.org/doc2097.htm

The European Union Electoral Observation Mission to Ethiopia website is at http://www.et-eueom.org

For additional background links on Ethiopia, see http://www.africafocus.org/country/ethiopia.php

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Ethiopia: Ruling party gains majority seats in parliament

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) http://www.irinnews.org

[IRIN reports may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]

Addis Ababa, 30 May 2005 (IRIN) - Ethiopia's ruling party has taken the majority of seats in recent parliamentary elections but suffered large losses to opposition groups, provisional results from the electoral board showed on Monday.

After 14 years in power, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's coalition saw their parliamentary majority cut by more than 163 seats - in a country that has never before had a genuine opposition.

Results for the 547-member parliament showed that the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) had taken a majority with 274 seats. The opposition parties had won 174 seats, and there were more than 61 where ballot counting was still incomplete. Parties allied to the ruling four-strong coalition took 15 seats.

The results were radically different from the May 2000 polls, when the opposition won just 12 seats in the parliament.

Bereket Simon, Ethiopia's information minister and spokesman for the EPRDF, welcomed the results and said that the high number of seats going to opposition parties was a sign of growing democracy in the country.

"These results have confirmed once again that the EPRDF has a clean win, both in the federal parliament and the regional parliaments," he told IRIN. "There are significant seats that have not been declared yet, and we expect to take between 25 and 35 of those seats as well, bringing our total to over 300.

"This election says a lot about democracy in the country," the minister added. "It has shown that people can vote for whomever they want. It shows that Ethiopian democracy is maturing. The biggest achievement of the election is that [however] people have voted, they have done so freely."

More than 22 million people voted, according to the election board.

Before Meles starts his third five-year term in September, however, opposition parties are threatening legal action in more than 139 seats, which could upset the balance of power.

"We cannot accept results in areas that are still contested," said Berhanu Nega, the vice-chairman of the largest opposition party, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy.

"Our lawyers are already preparing our case," he said. "The evidence of abuse is simply overwhelming, and there is no way the results can be announced in those seats.

"We are preparing a court injunction to prevent the election board announcing results in those contested seats until all avenues have been explored and investigations complete," he added.

Beyene Petros, vice-chairman of the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces, also rejected the provisional results.

"Some seats the EPRDF has claimed are contested by us," he said on Monday. "We won't accept these results until we have a legal ruling on them."

Although the 15 May polls were labelled the most open in the country's history, they have been dogged by allegations by all parties of irregularities and criticism from EU observers over delays in the count.

Official results are expected to be announced on 8 June, but the election board says that it could be delayed because of the massive number of complaints.

The ruling lost a number of high-profile seats, with Education Minister Genet Zewdie, Revenue Minister Getachew Belay and Minister for Capacity-Building Tefera Waliwa losing the election.

The prime minister has pledged more democracy, and many consider the legislative race - the third ever in Ethiopia's history - a test of his commitment to reform the country of 70 million.


Ethiopia: Concerns Over Delays in Vote Counting

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

Addis Ababa, May 25, 2005

European Union election observers said on Wednesday that the recent elections in Ethiopia were being seriously undermined by delays in the counting of votes.

In a statement, the EU observers said the trickle of results, claims of victory by the government and opposition and the denial of access to the state-run media for government opponents was threatening the electoral process.

"These practices, taken as a whole, are seriously undermining the transparency and fairness of the elections," a statement released by the observers said. "They also risk increasing the scope for manipulation and consequently putting in doubt public confidence in the process."

On Wednesday, results from only 186 constituencies of the 547-seat parliament had been tallied, despite the elections taking place nine days earlier.

Some 106 seats had gone to the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and affiliated parties, the National Election Board (NEB) said. The opposition parties had won 80 seats.

The observer mission, led by Ana Gomes, expressed "regret" at the way the NEB was counting and releasing votes.

"The European Union Election Observation Mission regrets the way in which the counting of the votes at the constituency level is being conducted as well as the way in which the release of results is being handled by the electoral authorities, the government and the political parties, especially the EPRDF," it said.

The mission criticised the state-run media in the country, saying it had a "duty to report on post-election events in an even-handed manner. This duty includes allowing all parties access to the media, albeit while respecting the public interest".

The NEB had promised to release provisional results last Saturday, but only a handful came in. It has been releasing new results each day.

Getahun Amogne, the NEB spokesman, said on Wednesday: "There is no legislation that stops parties from claiming they have won seats. The NEB will announce officially the results and they will remain final."

"By the end of this day we expect to receive almost half of the results," he added. "Most constituencies have notified their results, except those where complaints have been submitted, so we don't believe we are lagging behind. We are progressing very well." The main opposition party, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), has threatened to boycott the parliament if its claims of irregularities are not investigated. The CUD is contesting the results of 139 constituencies that it says it has won.

The ruling party has also lodged more than 50 complaints - mainly in Oromiya, the country's largest region. The NEB has asked four senior judges to help go through all the complaints in time for the declaration of the official result on 8 June.


Viewpoint

Why can't Ethiopia's elections get the world's attention?

By Makeda Tsegaye

http://www.ethiomedia.com

May 25, 2005

Despite being Africa's oldest independent nation, endowed with adequate natural resources and massive social capital, most people in the world associate Ethiopia with grotesque starvation and war. Indeed, these two unfortunate episodes have easily caught the attention of popular media such as CNN and BBC and the international community. But why is an equally important but rather positive episode not drawing as much attention?

On May 15, 2005, for the first time in the history of the country, some 25 million Ethiopians turned out to vote in the country's historic parliamentary and regional assembly elections. The huge turnout was prompted by the participation of various political parties who presented an alternative political and economic agenda to people desperate for a change. International observers, including former president Jimmy Carter and his team, and the European Union team led by Ms. Anna Gomez, monitored voting in some of the polling stations. The observers admired the general discipline and peaceful participation of the public, while at the same time highlighting some of the irregularities in the polling stations that they visited.

It is important to note that Ethiopians' participation in the election, which was characterized by remarkable discipline and peaceful attitude, occurred amid the ruling party's unconstitutional, illegal and intimidating acts prior to and during the election, including harassment and detention of supporters of the opposition parties mostly in the rural areas. It was these unlawful and clearly undemocratic acts by the ruling party that prompted Human Rights Watch to describe the election as a 'hollow exercise' in some parts of the country. Nevertheless, taking advantage of this window of opportunity, Ethiopians have made their demands for a better life and better future clear in an unprecedented way. One week prior to the election, the peoples of Ethiopia demonstrated their support for the opposition parties in the most disciplined and constitutionally approved manner. They repeated the same discipline and peaceful demand for change during the May 15 elections. On the other hand, the opposition parties reported to the National Electoral Board major irregularities in many rural polling stations where their observers were barred whilst expressing their optimism in other areas. What followed this remarkable process is at the crux of this piece.

A day after the election, the ruling party declared a state of emergency in the capital and ordered a month-long ban on demonstrations. Shortly after this announcement, they claimed victory using the state controlled media while admitting defeat in the capital, although votes were still being counted. Worse yet, the National Electoral Board decided to announce results piecemeal, as opposed to publishing provisional results from all constituencies on Saturday May 22, 2005 as originally planned. The National Electoral Board, which is not entirely independent, failed to provide an explanation for the delay. Unsurprisingly, the delay in vote counting elicited major concern amongst the public, especially in light of the ruling party's repeated claims of victory. In fact, some delayed results appear to have reversed previous results which had been reported in favor of the opposition parties. In the face of all these atrocities, the peoples of Ethiopia could not peacefully protest and defend their votes due to the month-long ban imposed on them by the ruling party. These undemocratic actions of the ruling party are apparent to representatives of the international community within and outside the country. In addition, in March 2005, the international community witnessed the expulsion of three American Civil Society Organizations, namely International Republican Institute, National Democratic Institute and IFES that had been working with the National Electoral Board for not more than two months.

The following questions, therefore, remain: why has the international community chosen to be silent? What are the world's most democratic nations saying about the ruling party's unconstitutional and undemocratic measures to tamper with people's votes? It was quite encouraging to see the European Union's press release on May 25, which tacitly condemned the ruling party's undemocratic and illegal use of the public media, and manipulation of the electoral process in general. How long will it take the US to effectively react to the ruling party's decision of banning post-election demonstration besides "monitoring the situation closely"? Surprisingly, the best resolution that the 21-member Foreign Ambassadors group could come up with on May 22 was to say that "we ask all political leaders to engage in constructive dialogue." Are we still talking about political parties? Isn't it clear that Ethiopians have already expressed their will for a change in the most responsible and peaceful manner? Isn't democracy about responsible citizens exercising their democratic rights to positively change the course of development and governance in their own country? Or is this version of democracy considered a luxury when it comes to Africa?

What happened to the unwavering support that the peoples of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia enjoyed in their contested election of November 2004? Why is the hotly contested election in Ethiopia not getting even one third of the attention that the former Soviet Republic of Georgia received via popular media such as CNN and BBC, which reported the event live from the small European nation? Is it because what is expected from a poor black African nation is nothing but starvation and war? Would this not be a good opportunity for the global proponents of democracy to demonstrate that people's peaceful protest can bear results irrespective of their geographic location in the world? Or is this not considered an option at all for Africans 'whose fate is predetermined as eternal misery and oppression'?

At this historic moment in the lives of many innocent, hardworking and peace-loving Ethiopians, the world owes those starving children, battered mothers and frustrated farmers a real answer.


Human Rights Watch (HRW)

Ethiopia: Political Dissent Quashed Election Observers Should Not Fail to Recognize Effects of Systematic Repression

[Excerpts. For full press release and other HRW reports on Ethiopia, see http://www.hrw.org/doc?t=africa&c=ethiop]

(Nairobi, May 10, 2005) - As parliamentary elections approach, the Ethiopian authorities have established new institutions that suppress speech and political activity in the country's most populous region, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. At the same time, officials have continued to detain and harass perceived political opponents. The 44-page report, "Suppressing Dissent: Human Rights Abuses and Political Repression in Ethiopia's Oromia Region," documents how regional authorities and security forces have used exaggerated concerns about armed insurgency and "terrorism" to justify the torture, imprisonment and sustained harassment of their critics and even ordinary citizens in the central region of Oromia. The ethnic-based party that controls the region, the Oromo Peoples' Democratic Organization, holds the largest share of parliamentary seats within the four-party coalition that has ruled Ethiopia since 1991.

Human Rights Watch said that election observers reporting on the May 15 parliamentary vote must acknowledge the extent to which these pervasive abuses have been used to prevent the emergence of dissenting voices and to punish those who speak out critically against government policies.

"The Ethiopian government claims that the elections demonstrate its commitment to democratic principles," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Africa Division. "But in the run-up to the elections, the authorities have intensified the repression they have used to keep themselves in power for 13 years."

In recent months, regional authorities in Oromia have imposed new local institutions that restrict the large rural population's most basic freedoms. For more than a decade, the region's ruling Oromo Democratic Peoples' Organization has sought to solidify its grip on power by punishing dissenters and intimidating others into silence. So far, these abuses have been largely ignored by the international community.

The Oromo Democratic Peoples' Organization (OPDO) has enjoyed a position of unchallenged dominance in Oromia's governance since 1991, following the overthrow of the military leader Mengistu Haile Mariam. The following year, the Oromo Democratic Peoples' Organization's only rival for political control of Oromia, the Oromo Liberation Front, withdrew from the political process after its candidates and supporters were harassed and intimidated in the run up to parliamentary elections.

Since then, the Oromo Liberation Front has waged an ineffectual armed struggle that has provided the authorities with a rationalization for repression. Throughout this period, Oromo's ruling party has routinely accused its critics and opponents of involvement with the rebel group to justify subjecting them to extreme abuse and harassment.

In March, Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed dozens of people in Oromia who had been arbitrarily detained, often repeatedly, when officials accused them of supporting the Oromo Liberation Front. In each of those cases, despite the inability of Ethiopian government authorities to produce any evidence to support their allegations, the detainees were held for weeks or months. None of the former detainees interviewed had ever been tried for any offense connected to their arrest or confronted with any evidence that they had committed any crime. ...

Many of the people detained on suspicion of involvement in the Oromo Liberation Front were severely beaten while in detention, and some were subjected to brutal methods of torture. ...

In the past six months, regional authorities have taken even greater efforts to stifle dissent in Oromia's countryside, where more than 85 percent of the population lives. Beginning late last year, Oromia's regional government began imposing an entirely new set of quasi-governmental community "development" organizations called gott and garee, in thousands of rural communities. While government officials claim that these institutions exist to facilitate development work, they are actually being used to monitor and control the speech, movement and personal associations of rural households in violation of fundamental rights. ...

In response to repeated demonstrations by students protesting government policies, regional and local authorities have gone to great lengths to monitor and suppress criticism in Oromia's schools. Students said that they could not express themselves freely in the classroom for fear of being suspended, expelled or even imprisoned. Several teachers confirmed that such fears were well-founded, describing how school administrators pressured them into gathering and reporting information about their students' political leanings.

People who have suffered abuse at the hands of government officials because of their critical opinions said that they now avoid speaking in public about the issues facing their communities. The chilling effect of these abuses is most pronounced in Oromia's countryside, where dozens of farmers interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that the efforts of the garee to monitor their opinions have caused them to avoid any discussion that might be seen as political.

"I used to speak at meetings about things that I thought were wrong. But now I never do this," one elderly man told Human Rights Watch. "They are too suspicious of anyone whose ideas are not the same as theirs."

Human Rights Watch called upon the Ethiopian government to take immediate action to end these deeply entrenched patterns of human rights violations and to hold responsible security and government officials accountable for their role in carrying them out. International donors should employ their considerable leverage to press the country's government into taking prompt and meaningful action in this regard.

With elections approaching on May 15, Human Rights Watch also urged international election observers to acknowledge the extent to which these abuses have restricted the possibility for meaningful political debate in the country's most populous region.


AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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