Ruling party set for landslide win in Ethiopian elections

2015-05-24 14:28
Hailemariam Desalegn. (AFP)

Hailemariam Desalegn. (AFP)

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Addis Ababa - Ethiopians voted on Sunday in a parliamentary election that is expected to hand a landslide win to the ruling party, which boasts about delivering strong economic growth while opponents say it has trampled on political freedoms.

In power for almost a quarter of a century, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has overseen the transformation of a nation that was on its knees after communist purges and famine to one that now attracts foreign investors.

But critics say it allows little room for dissent. The outgoing parliament of 547 seats had just one opposition member.

Experts do not expect a major shift in opposition fortunes in this vote, which is expected to hand a new term to Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, the EPRDF leader since the death in 2012 of Meles Zenawi, the rebel-turned statesman who set Ethiopia on the road to recovery.

"I will give my vote to the ruling party because I do not have faith in the opposition parties' ability to govern," said graphic designer Yohannes Seife, 24, shortly before polls opened.

Ethiopia's economy has been one of the fastest growing in Africa, fuelled by a government investment drive in new railways, roads and hydro-electric dams. The World Bank forecasts growth of 10.5% in the year starting in July.

Accusations of election fraud

But some young Ethiopians say it is time for new leaders.

"I'm sick of the ruling party. We are a young country and young people and we need change," said a 28-year-old who asked that his name not be published for fear of government reprisals. He said he would vote for the opposition Blue party.

But with the outcome of the vote seen as a certainty, some Ethiopians say they would not bother casting their ballot.

"The election will bring no change," said Behailu Ayele, 25, who did not plan to vote. "It is already known that the EPRDF will win the vote like the previous elections, by fraud."

Provisional results are expected to emerge in a few days, while the final tally will not be declared until next month in the nation of 96 million people and 37 million registered voters.

Free speech restrictions

Rights groups accuse the government of locking up bloggers and journalists for their views, and restricting free speech.

Officials deny this and say they only jail people for crimes. The government insists it will ensure a free and fair vote.

The opposition won an unprecedented 147 seats in an election in 2005 but most winning opposition candidates did not join parliament, saying the ballot was rigged.

In that vote, opponents swept up seats in the capital, Addis Ababa, but many did not take them up, saying the vote was rigged, and riots which followed that poll killed 200 people.

But loyalties are more difficult to gauge in rural parts of the country, where many live in poverty.

Read more on:    hailemariam desalegn  |  ethiopia  |  east africa

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