Ethiopia ruling party wins

2010-05-25 08:08

Addis Ababa - Provisional results show Ethiopia's ruling party has won national elections, officials said on Monday, as a US rights group said the weekend ballot had been corrupted by irregularities.

The Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front and its allies were ahead in the nine regions that have reported results, out of a total of 11, board chairperson Merga Bekana said.

"As far as the provisional result is concerned, the EPRDF has won," Merga said.

Final results will be announced in late June, officials have said.

Sunday's vote had been closely watched by international observers after the contentious 2005 election, in which the opposition won an unprecedented number of parliamentary seats only to endure police crackdowns and the killing of 193 demonstrators after the votes were counted.

Neither opposition leaders nor ruling party officials could be reached immediately for comment on the results announced on Monday. The opposition had complained previously of vote-rigging and intimidation on election day.

The election board chairperson also said the ruling party had won 20 of the capital's 23 parliamentary seats, with only two left to report results in Addis Ababa. There are 546 assembly seats in all.

Pre-election irregularities

New York-based Human Rights Watch criticised Sunday's vote as corrupted by pre-election irregularities, including telling voters they could lose food assistance, public-sector jobs, loans and educational opportunities if they voted against the ruling party.

"Behind an orderly fa├žade, 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."

Merga read out the results in English, barely pausing as he rattled off party acronyms and large figures, in a televised news conference.

"The process is very transparent, free, fair and peaceful," he said, noting the results were also available on the election board's website. Few people in Ethiopia have computers or TV sets.

Merga refused to say how many votes the ruling party received across the board, but an Associated Press calculation shows the ruling party won some 6.7 million votes in the nine regions reported.

Merga said more than 90% of the 32 million registered voters - some 29 million people - cast ballots nationwide.

The EU mission said that, while Sunday's vote had been peaceful, it received reports of irregularities, both of a technical nature and from opposition candidates.

It said they would release a report on the election on Tuesday.

Ethiopian election officials said they witnessed no irregularities, and government spokesperson Bereket Simon said the election was free and fair.

Glass box

"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.

"The people of Ethiopia have voted, and no one is going to take their vote away from them."

The ruling party appeared on Monday to be readying for a celebration, with dozens of blue-uniformed federal police milling around the capital's central parade grounds.

Workers had constructed a platform overlooking the grounds, and were installing a phone booth-sized glass box - possibly made of bulletproof glass for an important person.

Analysts had predicted an easy win for the ruling party, led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, a US ally now poised to get five more years of power after he seized control in a 1991 coup.

Since the violent elections in 2005, the opposition and some analysts say the government has systematically stifled the competition while limiting the media and restricting aid groups from working on human rights issues.

Ethiopia is frequently criticised 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 and provides billions of dollars in foreign aid.

Both countries want to curb Islamist extremism in Somalia, Ethiopia's unstable neighbour to the east.