Rights group says it is ‘too late to salvage’ upcoming Ethiopian elections – The Associated Press

April 11th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia: A human rights group said Friday that attacks on opposition candidates in Ethiopia had doomed hopes for fair elections this month and it was now “too late to salvage” the vote.

Human Rights Watch said it found that candidates and prospective voters had been threatened, attacked and arrested in the lead-up to the elections. Ethiopia will hold local, regional and some federal elections on April 13 and 20. The main opposition party said this week it will boycott the polls. (more…)

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia: A human rights group said Friday that attacks on opposition candidates in Ethiopia had doomed hopes for fair elections this month and it was now “too late to salvage” the vote.

Human Rights Watch said it found that candidates and prospective voters had been threatened, attacked and arrested in the lead-up to the elections. Ethiopia will hold local, regional and some federal elections on April 13 and 20. The main opposition party said this week it will boycott the polls.

“It is too late to salvage these elections, which will simply be a rubber stamp on the (the ruling party’s) near-monopoly on power at the local level,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Still, officials must at least allow the voters to decide how and whether to cast their ballots without intimidation.”

Findings from a two-week field study by the group in western Ethiopia support allegations made by the main opposition party, which says that 14,000 of its candidates have been forced to drop out of the race in western and southern Ethiopia because of intimidation, arrest and attempted murder.

Another opposition group says around 3,000 of its candidates have also had to drop out in similar circumstances.

The main opposition party announced Thursday it would boycott the elections. Opposition leader Bulcha Demeksa told The Associated Press that democracy has gotten worse since a 1991 coup brought Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to power.

“Democracy in Ethiopia is stillborn. It is not active now,” he said.

Officials from the National Election Board of Ethiopia denied allegations of irregularities, saying reports of threats and intimidation could not be proven.

“We have a vision as a board, and this vision is to see a valid democratic order in our country,” said deputy board chairman Addisu Gebreigzabhier.

Ethiopians will go to the polls over the next two Sundays, choosing among 4.5 million candidates for about 4 million seats at the local, regional and federal level. Nearly every open seat has a candidate from the ruling party, election officials said.

Election officials say there are 26 million registered voters, about a third of Ethiopia’s estimated population of 80 million.

Ethiopia has struggled with free elections and human rights issues in the past. In 2005, police shot 193 protesters in the aftermath of a hotly contested general election that was condemned for its irregularities by international observers. Zenawi, who was re-elected for his third five-year term, said he believed police were too forceful in controlling protesters but maintains the results were valid.

Comments are closed.