News24

‘Repression’ mars Ethiopia vote

2010-05-24 18:09

Addis Ababa - An international human rights group said on Monday that Ethiopia's national election was marred by repression and intimidation, while the government said the vote was free and fair.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said Sunday's parliamentary vote was corrupted by pre-election irregularities that included telling voters they could lose food assistance, public-sector jobs, loans, and educational opportunities if they voted against the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front.

"Behind an orderly facade, the government pressured, intimidated and threatened Ethiopian voters," said Rona Peligal, acting Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Whatever the results, the most salient feature of this election was the months of repression preceding it."

European Union observers said Sunday's vote was peaceful and that more than 70 percent of the 32 million registered voters took to the polls. Ethiopian election officials said they witnessed no irregularities, but opposition officials complained of vote-rigging and intimidation on election day.

Government spokesman Bereket Simon said the election was free and fair.

"It is sad to hear that while the election officials have said Ethiopians voted in a democratic way, Human Rights Watch, which has nothing to do with the election observation, is declaring our election fraudulent," he said. "But the good thing is the people of Ethiopia have voted and no one is going to take their vote away from them."

Election officials said they would release provisional results as early as late Monday, and final results in late June.

Details of the irregularities

Analysts have predicted an easy win for the ruling party led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, a US ally now poised to enter a second decade of power after he seized control of the Horn of Africa country in a 1991 coup.

EU observers said Sunday that they received reports of irregularities, both of a technical nature and from candidates and opposition groups. They said they will release a report on Tuesday with details of the irregularities that were reported to them.

Sunday's vote was closely watched by international observers after a contentious 2005 election.

That year, a then-energetic opposition won an unprecedented number of parliamentary seats in this country of 85 million, only to endure police crackdowns and the killing of 193 demonstrators after the votes were counted.

Since 2005, the opposition and some analysts say the government has systematically stifled the competition, and ensured an uneventful election by enacting restrictive laws that restrict aid groups from working on human rights issues and hinder the media.

While the ruling party and election officials have said the election would be free and fair, Ethiopia is frequently criticized for its human rights record, including by the US State Department, which in a March report cited reports of "unlawful killings, torture, beating, abuse and mistreatment of detainees and opposition supporters by security forces, often acting with evident impunity."

Still, the US considers Ethiopia an ally. Both countries want to curb Islamist extremism in Somalia, Ethiopia's unstable neighbor to the east. Ethiopia is reliant on billions of dollars of foreign aid, most of it from the US.