Curbs on opposition overshadow Ethiopia polls – AFP, Addis Ababa

April 12th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

Ethiopia on Sunday holds elections for the first time since deadly 2005 poll violence, but accusations of fresh repression against the opposition make the results a foregone conclusion. About 3.7 million candidates are competing for almost as many local and federal council seats and the opposition was only able to field a few thousand contestants. About 30 million people are eligible to vote. (more…)

Ethiopia on Sunday holds elections for the first time since deadly 2005 poll violence, but accusations of fresh repression against the opposition make the results a foregone conclusion. About 3.7 million candidates are competing for almost as many local and federal council seats and the opposition was only able to field a few thousand contestants. About 30 million people are eligible to vote.

On Thursday, one of the main opposition movements in the Horn of Africa nation, the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF), announced it was pulling out of the race.”We have decided to call off our participation from the elections as the situation is out of hand and dangerous,” party chairman Beyene Petros told AFP.”We attempted to field candidates in several constituencies but a majority of them have been rejected … some were even imprisoned and told to get lost,” he added.

The boycott will leave the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front unopposed in most constituencies.Questions are also being raised over the status of observers with opposition groups claiming that they were handpicked by the ruling party.”We have been requesting to participate for the last four or five months, but so far we haven’t been given the permission to do so,” said Yoseph Mulugeta, head of the independent Ethiopian Human Rights Council.

The authorities denied any foul play.”Nothing was carried out secretly… Ten national organisations have been licensed to monitor the elections according to the electoral law of Ethiopia,” said Merga Bekena, chairman of the National Electoral Board.The board has also dismissed the opposition’s claims of repression.

“We requested evidence for their claims, but they couldn’t provide us with anything. There’s nothing we can do without evidence,” deputy chairman Addisu Gebreigziabher added.The New York-based Human Rights Watch however said two weeks of field research provided ample evidence of “systemic patterns of repression and abuse that have rendered the elections meaningless in many areas.”

“It is too late to salvage these elections, which will simply be a rubber stamp on the EPRDF’s near-monopoly on power at the local level,” said Georgette Gagnon, HRW’s Africa director.”It is local officials who are responsible for much of the day-to-day repression that characterizes governance in Ethiopia … Local ruling party officials have systematically targeted opposition candidates for violence, intimidation, and other human rights abuses,” an HRW statement said.Another major opposition player, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), is absent from the election due to bitter wrangling within its leadership.

It had won an unprecedented number of parliament’s 547 seats in the 2005 general elections which the European Union and many observers had said fell short of international standards.Around 200 people had died in post-election violence sparked by accusations that the party of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi had rigged the ballot. The unrest landed several CUD top officials in jail for 18 months.In recent months, CUD leaders have been busy laying the foundations of a new party to compete in the next general polls in two years’ time following an electoral board decision to grant its name and symbol to breakaway factions.

Despite the widespread accusations of authoritarianism, some experts say he ruling EPRDF party now has more support than it did three years ago.The weakness and fractiousness of the opposition has dented its popularity in the capital Addis Ababa while a string of urban development programmes in the 80-million-strong country have earned the government new support.For the past 10 years, the EPRDF’s policies have helped the rural people more than the urbanites,” said Ermias Abebe, an assistant political science professor at Addis Ababa University.

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