Election Update – Eskinder Nega (Addis Ababa.)

May 23rd, 2010 Print Print Email Email

Update 2 on Election Day: 6:30 PM (Addis Ababa time) (more…)

Update 2 on Election Day: 6:30 PM (Addis Ababa time)

Voting polls closed at 6 PM around the country (I don’t know if at all places) amidst charges of serious irregularities by main opposition groups. The charges are being investigated by foreign observers. While voting was largely peaceful and uneventful in Addis, reports of irregularities reached opposition offices in Addis from the regions as early as 8 am. Reports of voters and observers being turned away; and pre-marked ballot papers being found in polling stations has marred the credibility of the outcome of the election.

Polling stations were mostly devoid of people after two in the afternoon in Addis. “ Most people voted in the morning. Almost 80- 90 percent in our case,” said a polling station chief to foreign reporters. “The electoral process is impeccable.” And none of the long lines that was reported by AFP was evident in the polling stations that I visited in Addis with foreign journalists either in the morning or afternoon. Neither did the many people we talked with complain of long lines. “There hasn’t been a repeat of the long lines we saw in 2005. There is low expectation about this election and the absence of long lines is a reflection of that sentiment,” says a pundit who went to his polling station quite early to cast his vote.

Scores of people refused to tell foreign reporters whom they voted for as kebele officials unabashedly eavesdropped on the interviews around Addis. One middle class couple we met outside a polling station in Bole secretly confided that they had voted for Medrek, but admitted that they were worried about the huge number of women and youth “bribed to give their vote to the EPRDF.” And were even more pessimistic about the opposition’s prospects. “They will not let them win. This is not about what the people want.”

But others were less circumspect. “I voted for the EPRDF,” said one of the many sympathizes of the EPRDF who showed no qualms about revealing their choices. And why did you vote for it, we ask. “Because I want peace,” he replied rather energetically. “Does this mean that their will be no peace if the opposition wins, he was asked. Confused and flabbergasted, he walks away without really explaining himself.

Polling officials we talked with said that counting will start as soon as polls are closed. “We will paste the results tomorrow morning for all to see. We will also notify the results to the electoral board. And it should be able to release provisional results as of tomorrow,” told us a polling station chief in Bole late afternoon.

Will continue to update you tomorrow.

Update on Election Day: 2:00 PM

Voting started as early as 7AM this morning in Ethiopia’s more than 44,000 polling stations. I visited polling stations in Addis this morning as a translator to foreign journalists. Our first sojourn in Wereda 12, which was Birtukan Medeksa’s neighborhood before her imprisonment, where a heated argument between Medrek’s candidate in the area, Baheta Taddssse, and what his supporters said was a federal police in civilian cloth briefly threatened to escalate in to scuffle. Baheta, who was being visibly harassed by a kekbele official, was confronted by the alleged federal police in civilian cloth as he came out of a polling station after casting his vote. “Don’t we have rights like you do?” screamed an agitated Baheta to a woman (a kebele official) in her 40s as she took pictures of him on her mobile phone. The police, who were standing a few meters away, did not intervene.

The long lines at polling stations seems to be of a bygone era, as no more than 20-30 people stood at a time in line to cast their vote. “There are no lines because we have more polling stations this year,” said a polling station chief when asked if the turnout is less than it was in 2005. “People are coming out to vote. For example, of the 1000 people registered to vote here, 500 have done so and its only 10: 30 in the morning.” But even with the new polling stations part of the equation, the turnout seemed underwhelming to most of the people we interviewed. “The lines were long by 7 AM in the morning in 2005.Where are half of those people?” asked one young man whom we talked with as he came out of a polling station. And why does he think there are less people, we ask. “There is less enthusiasm this year,” he replies, his eyes fixed on an obvious government emissary who stood nearby listening to everything that was being said. Can you tell us whom you voted for, we ask. He politely declines, still eyeing the person who was standing nearby. But another young man was more forceful. “I voted for Medrek, and so will most people. I have no question that Medrek will win,” he said, not in the least intimidated by kebele informants that we all knew that were standing nearby. So you think change will come, we inquired. “No,” he responded seriously. And why not? “No will be able to assure fair tallying of the votes.” One of the foreign journalists with me was intrigued, and wanted to know why he would bother to vote if he has no confidence in the process. “Because it’s better than doing nothing.”

In each polling station that we visited, five election observers, notionally independent but distrusted by the opposition, sat visibly in the middle of the room, while political parties’ representatives sat a few meters from them, almost all of them with a pen and paper in hand silently taking notes. In some polling stations not all representatives of political parties were present, though we were to find out later that none have been turned back in Addis. “I just got here and no one was here from my party,” told us one of them. “I am accredited to observe in different precincts, so I sat down.” Did you observe any problem, we ask. “No,” he replies, much to the delight of the EPRDF representative sitting next to him.

But the reports coming out of the regions were really alarming. In Tigary, where Seye is running, election observers have been overtly intimidated; in one instance the police fired in the air to frighten them. Some had been arrested and released after few hours. “All we worked for is on the verge of being lost,” said Seye to foreign journalists by phone. In the Amhara and Oromo regions the opposition complained of scores of voters were being turned away from polling stations, and their observers being denied access to polling stations. The head of the EU observer’s mission, who spoke to reporters at 11 in one of the polling stations in Addis, acknowledged that he had received allegations of irregularities, but deferred from passing judgment at such an early stage.

Will update you at six when the polls close.

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