Fraud Accusations Tarnish Ruling Party Victory in Ethiopia
June 9, 2010
By: Benjamin Russell | Printer Friendly
Results show Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s ruling Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) was the clear winner in Ethiopia’s parliamentary elections last month, despite accusations of fraud and the misuse of state funds, according to BBC News. Ethiopia’s Communications Minister Bereket Simon called the elections “free and fair,” but international observers from the EU and the United States said the contest fell well short of international standards.
Opposition parties, who gained only two of the possible 546 seats, accused the government of manipulating the electoral process in their favor. “The whole thing is a farce,” said Hailu Shawel, chairman of the All Ethiopia Unity Party. “In the countryside our observers are chased away by the militia. Our people are not allowed into the polling stations.”
EPDRF party members dismissed the allegations as an attempt to undermine the party’s rule. “We know the opposition had designed a strategy whereby they tried to tarnish the whole democratic electoral process. The facts on the ground tell everybody that this has been a competitive election…the system accommodated even extra requests by the opposition. So, one can say we have issued [a] free and fair playing ground,” said Communications Minister Bereket Simon.
Though this year’s elections were free from the political violence of previous contests, observers point out that the relative peace was more the result of careful planning by the EPDRF than of democratic progress. In 2005, a dispute over election results led to the death of 193 opposition protestors at the hands of Zenawi’s forces. This time around, the Prime Minister “closed down a number of critical newspapers, jammed Voice of America, blocked critical websites, banned all forms opposition rallies, crippled civil society organizations, and deliberately fomented divisions in the opposition camp,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
Over the last 18 months, the "government has taken clear and decisive steps that would ensure that it would garner an electoral victory," said US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson.
Despite the criticism, Ethiopia is likely to remain an important US ally in the fight against Islamic extremism. According to Nathaniel Myers of Foreign Policy, Ethiopia receives more foreign US aid than any country in sub-Saharan Africa and is an important source of stability in the region. “Wary of alienating Meles, the Obama administration has publicly criticized only the Ethiopian leader's most blatant assaults on democracy. And indeed, with the failure to permanently reduce aid budgets following the 2005 violence, the West lost its trump card. At the end of the day, Meles knows that the United States and his other foreign friends can't afford to back out,” said Myers.
VOA News – Ethiopia Election Seen as ‘Free and Fair’ by Government Official
NY Times – Ethiopian Party Accused of Intimidation before Election
Foreign Policy – Ethiopia’s Democratic Sham
BBC News – EU Observers Say Ethiopia Election ‘Falls Short’
Wall Street Journal – Ethiopia’s Embarrassing Elections