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Ethiopien - Parlamentsvalg 2005
ETHIOPIA: Voting largely peaceful in Somali region
IRINnews.org, 22. august 2005
Søndag (22. august) gik mere end en million ethiopiere til valg i den fattige Somali region for at vælge 23 repræsentanter til Parlamentet i forbindelse med et meget omdiskuteret parlamentsvalt, der blev afholdt i maj. Dagens valg anses som en strømpil for premierminister Meles Zenawi's løfter om demokratiske reformer.
JIJIGA, 22 Aug 2005 (IRIN) - More than a million people headed to the polls on Sunday in a delayed vote for 23 seats in Ethiopia's remote eastern Somali region, but many polling stations in the desert-like area opened late.
The Somali region elections were the last chapter in national elections for Ethiopia's 547-seat parliament, a controversial ballot that has been marred by bloodshed and allegations of vote rigging.
Re-runs of elections also took place in 31 constituencies after Ethiopia's elections board found evidence of abuse, despite an eleventh-hour legal bid by the main opposition party to suspend the vote.
Although delays hit many of the polling stations, with some opening late, national election board officials said the polling had gone relatively smoothly.
The chairman of the election board, Kemal Bedri, said: "There have been delays in certain polling stations but the voters will be accommodated.
"Overall the voting has gone smoothly and our understanding is that despite declarations by certain parties saying they would not participate, they have taken part."
However, one international election observer who spoke on condition of anonymity said although the Somali polls had been largely peaceful, they had been marred by chaos and irregularities.
"In the Somali area it has been very chaotic, although relatively calm, and lots of irregularities," the observer added.
At least five people died in July in grenade attacks in the regional capital, Jijiga, and regional opposition parties claimed last week that ballots had been stolen and were being sold in local markets.
The final results are due to be announced on 5 September.
The rest of the country voted on 15 May, handing another five-year term to the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who has been in power since 1991.
Although the Somali region vote cannot tip the balance of power, it could reduce the majority of the EPRDF, an analyst said.
Voters, some armed with AK-47 assault rifles, began gathering at sunrise to cast their ballots in villages across the barren region inhabited by nomadic herdsmen, with ballot boxes strapped to trees.
Ahmed Mohamoud Bedi, 30, was the first to cast his ballot at Dud Afi village, some 760 km east of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. He said: "We hope our vote can bring greater development and prosperity to the region."
The father of 10, who has no electricity or running water at his home, added: "We have lived with poverty for too long and now is the time for change."
Opposition parties, which had threatened to boycott the poll, backed down at the last minute and fielded candidates in the 23 federal and 168 regional seats.
However, an armed secessionist rebel group, the Ogaden National Liberation Front, which is waging a guerrilla war against the government, said it would not recognise the results of the elections.
"We do not recognise these elections as being free, fair, legitimate or legal in the context of the dispute which exists between the Somalis of Ogaden and successive Ethiopian governments," the group said in a statement.
"Ballots are being held in military compounds and in some cases these same compounds have been designated as venues for casting voting ballots, creating ample opportunity for coercion and intimidation," it added.
European Union observers and the US-based Carter Center were at polling stations in the region, and also monitored the vote in constituencies where re-runs were being held.
The polls, seen as a key test of Meles' commitment to democratic reforms, have threatened to undermine his credibility abroad after violence and claims of widespread fraud. Britain recently suspended some aid after security forces reportedly gunned down at least 40 protesters demonstrating against alleged electoral fraud.
According to the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, the dead included a 15-year-old schoolboy, fatally wounded in the chest, and a 35-year-old mother of four who had her skull broken with a rifle-butt and died of her injuries 12 days later.
The ruling party and its allies have so far won 318 seats in the 547-member body, while opposition parties have won 161, up from just 12 seats during the last elections in 2000.
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