Ethiopia: Observers approve electoral process as opposition protest

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Results of Ethiopia’s first elections in five years will be released on 21 June despite claims the process was marred with electoral irregularities. While foreign observers insist the electoral process was fair, opposition party threaten to reject the results.

According to the main opposition alliance, Medrek, opposition agents had been barred from observing the polls in the southern Oromia region where they [Medrek] expected to score voter points.

“It doesn’t look like an election, even by African standards. In some areas, we even heard that ballot boxes were opened and stuffed before the arrival of our people. We’ll review our assessment regarding the elections tomorrow. But one thing is for sure, all this cheating was done with millions of witnesses,” Medrek leader Merera Gudina was quoted by AFP.

The election polls came to a close on Sunday, May 23, but the opposition has warned that they might reject the results. According to reports, there were thousands of local observers spread out across the country although some in the opposition do not see them as neutral.

Despite the claims of the opposition, some foreign observers have said the electoral process was fair. An observer from the BBC, Will Ross, said voting in the polling stations he visited in the capital of Addis Ababa appeared well organized, with a steady flow of voters.

The European Union had 170 observers in Ethiopia. Chief EU observer Thijs Berman said he had heard the opposition complaints but he had not seen anything that would arouse any anxiety.

Albeit, incumbent Prime Minister Zenawi who seeking re-election is backed by the international community for his anti Somalia militancy stands. He is widely expected to be re-elected, with the opposition seen as divided and disorganized.

Prime Minister Zenawi believes he deserves to win the polls given how much he had stirred Africa’s second most populous country in toward growth.

“Imagine a government which has delivered double-digit growth rates for over seven years losing an election anywhere on earth. It is unheard of for such a phenomenon to happen,” Mr. Zenawi was quoted by Reuters.

In 2005, the roles were reversed. Allegations of electoral fraud by incumbent Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front’s (EPRDF) led to protests and deaths.

Officials of Ethiopia’s electoral commission have refuted claims that the elections were irregular. A government spokesman said the opposition must already know it had lost and so are crying foul.

Many believe that the fairness of the Ethiopian polls could mark a milestone in the country’s democratic process, as it is unusual for an African country to receive a fair rating from foreign observers during presidential elections.

The Ethiopian government had banned foreign embassy staff from monitoring the poll. The government said it did not see them as experts on elections and said it did not want diplomatic relations distorted.

Earlier this year, some rights activists had dismissed the elections as a pretense, accusing the government of muzzling the media and efficiently blacklisting opposition supporters. But the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front dismissed the claims as propaganda.

Ethiopia’s electoral commission has until 21 June to declare the results.

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