Opposition Gains Ground in Watershed Elections: Despite the Political Violence and Ongoing Crisis in Addis Ababa Following the Parliamentary Election, the Landscape of Ethiopian Politics Looks to Have Changed Forever. While Complete Results Had Not Yet Been Announced at Press Time, the Opposition, for the First Time, Has Made Substantial Gains. Neil Ford Reports
Ford, Neil, African Business
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) had been largely unchallenged on the political front since taking power in 1991 and indeed faced just 12 opposition representatives in the previous parliament. However, although an investigation into many of the results is to be held, the opposition's ranks are likely to be swelled by up to 200 new recruits.
Tensions rose in the days following the poll as a result of persistent allegations of electoral irregularities, prompting Zenawi to take personal control of the country's security forces. He said: "As peace should be respected within the city and its environs, the government has decided to bring all the security forces, the police and the local militias under one command, accountable to the prime minister."
Clashes between protestors against the irregularities and the police resulted in many deaths, while several opposition politicians were reported to have been placed under house arrest.
As always, independent observers had a mixed view on proceedings. EU officials condemned pro-government bias in the state media and also criticised the slow pace of vote collation. International observers were scattered rather thinly across the main towns, yet most of the allegations of fraud have been made about constituencies in remote rural areas.
Results from some constituencies were delayed by investigations into allegations of electoral interference and a breakdown of the final composition of the Ethiopian parliament was not expected for some time.
According to results from the National Election Board, the EPRDF won around 300 seats in the 547-seat parliament. Together with another 14 seats held by its allies, this would give the ruling party a clear majority. Yet there is no doubt that the election proved something of a watershed in Ethiopian politics.
The Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) was by far the most successful opposition party, taking 110 seats out of the first 453 to be declared. Moreover, the party won a massive victory in the capital Addis Ababa, taking all 23 seats on offer, and in the country's other major urban centres. This resulted in the defeat of several ministers, including the minister of education, Genet Zewdie. Despite its success, the CUD was not content with the outcome of the election.
While the EPRDF filed official complaints in over 50 constituencies, the CUD more than doubled this by registering 139 complaints, and the election may have to be re-run in a number of constituencies.
The head of the EU mission, Ana Gomes, warned of the "dangerous situation Ethiopia was now facing", while the ambassadors of Western countries issued a joint appeal for calm. It read: "We ask all parties to respect the role of the National Election Board in counting and declaring the results. The Ambassadors' Donors' Group calls upon all political parties to be calm and patient. We ask all political leaders to engage in constructive dialogue."
In response, the government, the CUD and the other main opposition coalition, the United Ethiopia Democratic Forces (UEDF), agreed to a common investigation into allegations of voting irregularities in over 300 constituencies.
Improvements to quality of life
Although the election was Ethiopia's third multiparty poll, this was the first time that the opposition had been perceived as having any real chance of success. Some Ethiopians want more rapid economic reform and unemployment remains a massive problem in the cities, while the government's decision to bulldoze slum areas of Addis Ababa was not popular with many residents.
A total of 26m people were eligible to vote, making it one of Africa's biggest ever polls. The National Election Board did not have full figures but a spokesperson indicated that turnout was certainly a great deal higher than in 2000. …