Ethiopia released results of its parliamentary elections yesterday. The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) won at least 499 of 547 seats. Eleven more seats remain to be declared. That increases the EPRDF’s majority by at least 172 seats (2005 results here). Medrek, the most prominent opposition alliance, has won only a single seat so far.
The headquarters of Ethiopia’s main opposition party was like a funeral parlor as observers reported in from around the country, opposition leaders were dumbstruck at the possibility of a nearly complete rout.
High-profile leaders such as former president Negasso Gidada, senior figures in the parliamentary opposition Merera Gudina and Beyene Petros, all appear headed for defeat.
Other prominent political leaders, including Hailu Shewal and Lidetu Ayalew were also said to have conceded.
Ruling party leader and incumbent Prime Minister Meles Zenawi struck a defiant tone vis-a-vis the rest of the world:
Mr Meles, one of Washington’s and London’s closest regional allies, told a rally in the capital, Addis Ababa, on Tuesday that foreign forces could do nothing to overturn the outcome and warned against any post-election bloodshed.
“The vast majority of the residents of our cities and the farmers of our country who actually consider themselves and the EPRDF as two sides of a coin have yet again shown the world that nothing can ever shake their unwavering support for our organisation,” he said.
Still, the EU and the US are questioning the integrity of the results:
EU Chief Observer Thijs Berman says this year’s elections have been relatively peaceful, and the voting process was well-planned and safe. But his preliminary report states the election was marred by a “lack of level playing field”, which favored the ruling party.
Berman also says the ruling party used government resources for campaign purposes, had unfair access to the state-run media, and blocked other news sources, such as VOA broadcasts. And without a national voting list, he said, it is impossible to detect certain kinds of fraud, like double-voting.
“These shortcomings lead us to the conclusion that this electoral process falls short of certain international principles, certain international commitments,” said Berman.
“While the elections were calm and peaceful and largely without any kind of violence, we note with some degree of remorse that the elections there were not up to international standards,” Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson told a House of Representatives panel.
Carson, the Obama administration’s top diplomat for Africa, said Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s government had taken “clear and decisive” steps to ensure it won a landslide victory in Sunday’s vote. The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front and allied parties won nearly every seat in the country’s 547-member parliament.
What effect will such statements have in Ethiopia? Meles was as defiant in private as in public, it seems: an Al Jazeera reporter writes, “I understand from sources that Thijs Berman, the EU chief observer, had been summoned by Zenawi on Monday for a serious dressing down - even a threat of expelling the 170-strong mission from the country.”
I do not think Meles fears the EU or the US, perhaps because he believes they will not move from words to actions – in other words, from statements to cutting aid. We’ll see who blinks first.