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Ethiopia: Preliminary results show Wayane amassing huge "win" in parliamentary polls

Ethiopia: Preliminary results show WAYANE amassing huge win in parliamentary polls

National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) Chairman Prof. Merga Bekana announces preliminary results to the medianAddis Ababa, Ethiopia Wednesday, May 27, 2015. Preliminary results released by Ethiopia's electoral body show the ruling coalition winning comfortably in parliamentary elections. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene) Associated Press May 27, 2015 | 11:48 a.m. EDT 

By ELIAS MESERET, Associated Press

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Ethiopia's ruling coalition won a sweeping victory in parliamentary elections, according to partial results released Wednesday. Western countries said the vote was peaceful but criticized what they described as restrictions on civil liberties.

Early results from the vote Sunday showed the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front winning at least 442 seats in the 547-seat federal parliament.

The ruling coalition won all 23 parliamentary seats from the capital, Addis Ababa, according to the tally by Ethiopia's election commission.

Final results are expected on June 22.

The European Union said the elections were orderly but unfair.

"Arrests of journalists and opposition politicians, closure of a number of media outlets and obstacles faced by the opposition in conducting its campaign have limited the space for open debate and had a negative impact on the overall electoral environment," the European Union said in a statement.

Similar concerns were raised by the United States. The State Department said the U.S. "remains deeply concerned by continued restrictions on civil society, media, opposition parties, and independent voices and views."

It also said U.S. diplomats were denied accreditation as election observers.

In 2010, Ethiopia's ruling coalition won 99.6 percent of all parliamentary seats in a sweeping victory that human rights groups said was the result of a state campaign to quell dissent. Only one opposition lawmaker made it to parliament in that election.

Some opposition leaders have alleged their members were harassed and beaten while trying to vote on May 24. The government denied the charges.

Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has led the country since 2012.

Ethiopia's economy has grown at an average of 11 percent over the last decade, more than double the rate for sub-Saharan Africa, according to United Nations figures. The growth is fueled in part by huge public expenditure on energy and infrastructure projects that attract private investment.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Press Statement
Marie Harf
Deputy Department Spokesperson , Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC, May 27, 2015
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The United States commends the people of Ethiopia for their civic participation in generally peaceful parliamentary and regional elections on May 24. We acknowledge the National Electoral Board’s organizational efforts and the African Union’s role as the only international observer mission on the ground. We also note the importance of the nine televised party debates as progress in fostering open public discussion of the challenges facing the country. We encourage all candidates, political parties and their supporters to resolve any outstanding differences or concerns peacefully in accordance with Ethiopia’s constitution and laws.

The United States remains deeply concerned by continued restrictions on civil society, media, opposition parties, and independent voices and views. We regret that U.S. diplomats were denied accreditation as election observers and prohibited from formally observing Ethiopia’s electoral process. Apart from the election observation mission fielded by the African Union, there were no international observer missions on the ground in Ethiopia. We are also troubled that opposition party observers were reportedly prevented from observing the electoral process in some locations.

A free and vibrant media, space for civil society organizations to work on democracy and human rights concerns, opposition parties able to operate without impediment, and a diversity of international and domestic election observers are essential components for free and fair elections. The imprisonment and intimidation of journalists, restrictions on NGO activities, interference with peaceful opposition party activities, and government actions to restrict political space in the lead-up to election day are inconsistent with these democratic processes and norms.

The United States has a broad and strong partnership with Ethiopia and its people. We remain committed to working with the Ethiopian Government and its people to strengthen Ethiopia’s democratic institutions, improve press freedom, and promote a more open political environment consistent with Ethiopia’s international human rights obligations.

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 Ethiopia’s Ruling Party Wins Big in Early Election Results

VOA

A woman looks at the election paper before voting in Ethiopia's general election, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, May 24, 2015.
Marthe van der Wolf

Ethiopia’s ruling party won Sunday’s election with an overwhelming majority, according to preliminary results released by the country's electoral commission.

The electoral board says the ruling EPRDF party and its allies have won all the parliamentary seats decided so far - 442 out of 547.

The Ethiopian Political Revolutionary Democratic Front won all of the seats in the capital city, Addis Ababa.

Final tally pending

Opposition parties only won a single parliamentary seat in the 2010 elections. It is not yet clear if they won more seats this time around, according to Merga Bekana of the electoral board.

"Regarding the remaining results, we have to wait. According to our timetable we have time to gather, to collect and then publish it according to our schedule. But I cannot actually tell you actually how many remaining seats will be occupied by opposition or ruling party,” said Merga.

Final results are expected on June 22.  

Leaders of the two largest opposition parties, Blue Party and Medrek, could not be immediately reached to comment on the preliminary results. Both have accused the government of harassing and intimidating their supporters before and during the elections.

African Union observers judged the elections as calm, peaceful and credible but significantly, did not use the terms "free and fair."

'Continued restrictions' concerning

The U.S. State Department commended Ethiopia for holding peaceful elections, but also said it is deeply concerned by “continued restrictions on civil society, media, opposition parties, and independent voices and view.”

Ethiopia's National Electoral Board said an equal platform was created for all political parties, and the government has denied accusations of obstructing the opposition in any manner.

Merga said opposition parties should accept the reality, and said their accusations are baseless.

The new parliament will convene in October, and EPRDF already has said that if the party wins again, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn likely will be appointed to serve another five years in office.

The EPRDF has been in power since ousting the regime of former dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991. The preliminary results came out one day before Ethiopia officially celebrates the downfall of the former regime.

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AU Observers: Ethiopian Poll Was 'Calm, Peaceful and Credible'

Calm, peaceful and credible: Those are three of the key words the African Union election observer mission used to describe Ethiopia’s national election, which is widely expected to produce yet another landslide for the nation’s longtime ruling party.

But “free and fair,” two critical adjectives, were missing from the assessment by the only foreign election observer mission present as tens of millions of Ethiopians voted Sunday.

“The AU Election Observers’ Mission concludes that the parliamentary elections were calm, peaceful and credible as it provided an opportunity for the Ethiopian people to express their choices at the polls,” said mission head Hifikepunye Pohamba, a former Namibian president.

Pohamba said the mission did not hear any reports of major violence or problems on election day. But he said observers saw ruling party allies openly urging voters inside the polling station and some stations opened before the stipulated 6 a.m. start time. He added the dark canvas ballot boxes in many stations were insufficiently transparent.

When VOA asked if the election was fair, free and transparent, AU observer Chika Charles Aniekwe did not answer directly. “We want you be guided by our pronouncement. We do not want to pronounce on what we have not seen. So our judgement on the election is that it was peaceful, it was calm and credible. So we do not want to delve into all we have not pronounced,” said Aniekwe.

Preliminary results due soon

This is the first vote since the 2012 death of Meles Zenawi, who had led the nation since 1991, first as president, then as prime minister. Meles’ successor, former academic Hailemariam Desalegn, is widely expected to stay in charge as head of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front.

Meles encountered an electoral roadblock in 2005, when an swell of support for the opposition overflowed into street protests. Government security forces opened fire on opposition supporters who accused officials of vote-rigging.

A public inquiry determined that 200 people were killed. Tens of thousands of opposition leaders and supporters were jailed.

The ruling party then won all but a single seat in parliament in the 2010 polls, though European Union observers criticized the ruling party for creating an unfair playing field for the opposition.

Before this election, the opposition accused the government of hindering their campaigns through arrests, harassment, intimidation and unequal access to funding. The government has denied the allegations.

AU observer chief Pohamba urged calm. “The AU Electoral Mission encourages political parties, candidates, their supporters and the electorate to maintain the prevailing atmosphere of peace that characterized pre-election and election day and urges for the use of the legal channels of complaints and appeals should there be any post-electoral disputes,” he said.

Ethiopia’s election board says it will soon release preliminary results. Final results are due June 22.

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Ethiopia's ruling party wins election landslide

Addis Ababa (AFP) - Ethiopia's ruling party and its allies have won an overwhelming majority in parliament in weekend elections, the country's electoral board announced Wednesday.

The EPRDF, in power in Africa's second-most populous nation for over two decades, were widely expected to secure a near clean sweep of parliament, and the outgoing chamber had just one opposition MP.

According to preliminary results, the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn secured all 442 parliamentary seats so far declared out of the 547 seats up for grabs, said Merga Bekena, president of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia.

Ahead of Sunday's polls, which African Union observers said passed off without incident, the opposition alleged the government had used authoritarian tactics to guarantee victory.

But government spokesman Shimeles Kemal celebrated the win as the result of Ethiopia's economic advances.

"Voters have credited the ruling party for the economic progress it introduced in the country," he told AFP.

"They want the continuation of this policy. In view of the weak, fragmented opposition and the lack of viable alternative, it was very likely that the ruling party would win in a landslide."

According to the electoral board, the EPRDF also took back the only seat that was held by the opposition, securing all 23 seats in the capital Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia, whose 1984 famine triggered a major global fundraising effort, has experienced near-double-digit economic growth and huge infrastructure investment -- making the country one of Africa's top-performing economies and a magnet for foreign investment.

It also remains a favourite of key international donors, despite concerns over human rights, as a bastion of stability in an otherwise troubled region.

- 'Imprisonment, intimidation, interference' -

According to the government spokesman, "voters have made stability, peace and security vital in their decision and for the past two decades the ruling party has secured stable and reliable security."

Ethiopia's former Marxist rebel-turned-leader Meles Zenawi, who died in 2012, was succeeded by Prime Minister Hailemariam, who has said he is committed to opening up the country's political system to allow more space for opposition parties.

But rights groups routinely accuse Ethiopia of clamping down on opposition supporters and journalists, and of using anti-terrorism laws to silence dissent and jail critics.

Activists have said the polls would not be free or fair due to a lack of freedom of speech.

The United States, which enjoys close security cooperation with Ethiopia, also said it remained "deeply concerned by continued restrictions on civil society, media, opposition parties, and independent voices and views."

"The imprisonment and intimidation of journalists, restrictions on NGO activities, interference with peaceful opposition party activities, and government actions to restrict political space in the lead-up to election day are inconsistent with these democratic processes and norms," the State Department said in a statement.

A statement from the European Union also said true democracy had yet to take root in Ethiopia.

"Arrests of journalists and opposition politicians, closure of a number of media outlets and obstacles faced by the opposition in conducting its campaign have limited the space for open debate and had a negative impact on the overall electoral environment," the EU said.

The African Union had deployed 59 observers for Sunday's polls, but European Union and Carter Center observers, who were present for the 2010 vote, were not invited.

On Tuesday the AU observer mission said the elections were "credible" and "generally consistent with the AU guidelines on the conduct of elections in Africa."

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On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

A boy sits outside a polling station, as Ethiopia's national election kicks off in capital Addis Ababa, May 24, 2015.
A boy sits outside a polling station, as Ethiopia's national election kicks off in capital Addis Ababa, May 24, 2015.
 
Anita Powell

Are you a journalist?” the young man asks me as we board the elevator.

In Ethiopia, this is a loaded question.  It earned me an extra 45-minute wait at airport immigration as officials thumbed through my passport, pawed through my luggage and asked me what my intentions were.

Several international human rights groups have documented the systematic repression of Ethiopian journalists who were openly critical of the ruling party.  About a dozen journalists and bloggers are in Ethiopian prison, accused of terrorism.  Many more have fled into exile and are covering this year’s election from afar.

“Yes,” I sigh.

“I’m not happy with this election,” he blurts out.  “There is no democracy in Ethiopia.”

Bold, I think admiringly.  This is new - when I was assigned to Ethiopia eight years ago, in the aftermath of the government’s violent reaction to an opposition gains in the 2005 election, those sentiments were rarely spoken aloud - and certainly not to random journalists.

Is he trying to bait me? I wonder.

“Oh?” I say, cautiously. “Yes, I’ve heard people say that.”

I get off at my floor, rattled.

People take part in a Blue Party election rally in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, May 21, 2015.
People take part in a Blue Party election rally in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, May 21, 2015.

On the campaign trail, the nation’s newest opposition party winds its way through Addis Ababa.  Crowds emerge to watch the procession.

“Please, I am journalist from America,” I say in Amharic at every stop, waving at my camera theatrically.  “Do you have opinion on the election please?  Will you give interview?”

No one volunteers.  One man covers his face when he sees me filming the street.  The guy next to him takes his phone out and points it in my direction.  I remove my sunglasses and stare at him.

Opposition members say they’re confident of getting support at the polling booth.  Blue Party spokesman Yonatan Tesfaye even predicts the various opposition parties will grab as many as 100 parliamentary seats, out of more than 500.  This would indeed be a triumph: in 2010, the opposition won just a single seat.  

One opposition candidate, Yidinakachaw Addis, tells me he was arrested while trying to take food to his imprisoned friends, also opposition supporters.

“I know it’s very difficult to participate in politics, especially in our country,” he says.  “I know, even I will be in prison one day.  So I am happy, even if I will join my friends in prison, I will be happy for that.  I think I did something best for my country.”

Later, the internet has failed in my hotel room, sending me frantically down to the lobby to try to transmit a TV story on the opposition campaign.

Another young man on the elevator.  I gesture to my laptop, explain in Amharic, “There is no internet in my house.” (I don't know the word for hotel room.)

“It’s the government,” he responds, to my surprise.  “There’s an election coming and they want to stop the internet.”

Overcome, I show him a snippet of my story.  “If you don’t follow them and if you don’t join them and if you don’t do what they need, you can’t do what you need,” says Abdurahim Jemal Araya, a self-described political refugee living in South Africa.  “And you need to follow them, each and every thing they are telling you, because there is no democracy at all in our country.”

The young man nods.

“That is my feeling too,” he says grimly.

A woman casts her vote at a polling station, as Ethiopia's national election kicks off in capital Addis Ababa, May 24, 2015.
A woman casts her vote at a polling station, as Ethiopia's national election kicks off in capital Addis Ababa, May 24, 2015.

Election day starts before dawn.  People line up at a typical Addis Ababa polling station.  It is calm, orderly, polite.  I go from station to station, and at all but one of them my election badge allows me easy access.

“What are you doing here?” asks a burly dude in a leather jacket at that one station.

I’m tempted to tell him I'm on vacation, and just thought it might be fun to, you know, drop by a polling station at 6 a.m. with a video camera.  But more burly dudes come over.  They tell me to wait, order me to point my camera at the ground.

Finally an election official comes out and scrutinizes my badge.

After a long wait, he tells me, “It’s okay, you are allowed.”

“I know,” I say tartly.

I have little trouble finding ruling party voters.  They are, after all, the majority.  But I approach voter after voter in an attempt to get a variety of views.  Several actually run away from me.

The next day, I meet someone who knows one of the nine jailed bloggers and journalists.  He asks not to be identified for fear of reprisal.  He says he fears that talking to me so soon after the election could make things worse for the group.

I grill the poor man.  "Is it possible," I ask, "that any one of the nine could have links to actual groups trying to overthrow the Ethiopian government?"  That's the ostensible reason for their imprisonment.  Could his friend, who he swears is innocent, have been accidentally pulled in over her head?

He shakes his head and notes that the prosecution hasn’t presented any evidence of terrorism.

“I think it’s a fear of the future rather than a crime of their past that they were arrested for,” he says, explaining that the longtime ruling EPRDF party fears reprisals if they ever lose power.

There’s no obvious sign of this repression he’s talking about.  As we sit and talk in a cafe, we both look nervously at a succession of lone men who fill up the tables near us, studying their phones.

I later drop in to see a local business owner, who tells me that three of his workers called in to say they were too afraid to come to work.  They refused, he says, to say more.

We talk about rampant rumors that the ruling party has won 100 percent of the vote this time, and I stress that only official results count.

He raises an eyebrow at me, as if to say, “Really?”

A woman leaves after casting her vote at a polling station, as Ethiopia's national election kicks off in capital Addis Ababa, May 24, 2015.
A woman leaves after casting her vote at a polling station, as Ethiopia's national election kicks off in capital Addis Ababa, May 24, 2015.

As journalists, we are limited to the attributed, the concrete, the verifiable, and the achievable.  And so, my stories from this election show orderly polling stations, happy voters, and government supporters.

They also include mild endorsement from the only foreign observer mission, the African Union, which said the election was peaceful and credible, although they not use the words "free and fair."

But my stories on this election are largely missing a silent, and silenced, group. I have no idea how big this group really is, as many won’t speak to me once the video camera or voice recorder come out.

Those who told me they didn’t bother to vote insisted that information was off the record.  The blogger-journalist group tried to vote, the friend says, as they have not been convicted of anything and therefore are still eligible.  But prison authorities told them there was no nearby polling station.

Opposition campaigner Ephraim Sahle Selassie says he believes that free expression is unstoppable, with the growth of technology and social media.

But for now, in Ethiopia, free expression is just a dream for the future.