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Ethiopien - Parlamentsvalg 2005

ETHIOPIA: Election fever grips capital

IRINnews.org, 13. maj 2005

En stadig mere udbredt euforisk stemning spredes blandt oppositionen i Ethiopiens hovedstad Addis Ababa i de sidste dage før parlamentsvalget den 15. maj.

ADDIS ABABA, 13 May 2005 (IRIN) - In Addis Ababa's plethora of street cafés, above the whistling of steam escaping from the ancient cappuccino machines, the talk is of Sunday’s federal elections.

It is no surprise. In a country with an arcane two-thousand-year history, this will only be the third time that Ethiopians have gone to the polls.

Abebe Tesfaye, a 34 year-old computer scientist, sips his coffee while his phone continuously bleeps with text messages from political parties urging him to vote.

"This is the first time in our country where text messages have been used by political parties," he told IRIN. "We are finally waking up to the advantages of modern technology."

It is not the only new phenomenon marking these elections, where 25.6 million people will vote at 31,000 polling stations, on 15 May.

For the first time ever, opposition groups have held mass rallies, international observers have been welcomed and political opponents have had access to state-controlled media.


Opposite the Garden Café in central Addis Ababa last Sunday, a crowd, some say a million strong, waved banners and signs and listened to speeches from opposition leaders.

"We have never seen anything like this before," Abebe said. "People are being allowed to express themselves and can choose who they want to support. Whatever happens now in Ethiopia, this means we are finally on the road to democracy."

A day earlier, almost one million supporters of the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) had packed into Meskel Square in the heart of the capital city.

While previous elections in Ethiopia have been marred by chaos and irregularities, the government and opposition parties are pledging a free and fair poll this time.

Observers, however, say even if the playing field has been leveled somewhat, opposition groups and observers say there are still areas of concern.

Allegations of murder, beatings, harassment and disruptions of rallies in the countryside have been made against both the opposition and the government. Human-rights advocates claim ethnic groups are being suppressed.

Opposition groups, which have limited experience, face an uphill task. They boycotted the 1995 polls, complaining of unfair campaign restrictions.

Limited financial and logistical resources and a ruling party that has retained a firm grip on power also handicap the opposition.

The current government has won all previous elections. It has been in power since 1991 under Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

The EPRDF, which ousted dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam after a 17-year guerrilla war, won 479 seats in the 547-seat assembly in the last national elections in 2000.

While the majority of the remaining legislators support the EPRDF, there are 12 opposition members of the lower chamber, the House of People’s Representatives.

Desalegn Rahamato, head of an independent policy research unit called the Forum for Social Studies, said the ruling party was widely expected to secure another five-year term.

"We certainly do not expect the government to lose the elections," he told IRIN. "But we think there may be a considerable change in the make-up of the parliament."

Still, the opposition has not given up. "We seriously can win this," Berhanu Nega, from the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), the largest opposition group, told IRIN.

Economic and land reforms were central to the campaign, he added. After 14 years of the EPRDF in power, it was now time for a change.

According to Berhanu, the CUD could win as many as 200 seats in the parliament. The party – which favors a renegotiation of the border dispute with Eritrea - is also prepared to join forces with other opposition groups and form a coalition to unseat the government.


Ethiopia’s problems are all too evident. It is one of the poorest nations on earth. Last week, UNICEF warned that tens of thousands of children could die without international food aid.

Government figures put unemployment rates in the capital at around 40 percent. Most of Ethiopia’s 71-million people have limited access to health care. One third of children do not have the chance to go to school, too busy eking out a living in rural areas.

Analysts say that with 85 percent of Ethiopia’s population living in rural communities, it is in the countryside where the elections will be decided. The ruling party has long kept its traditional power base in those communities.

Development, officials say, will come from rural farmers and increased productivity on the land. Gains in the agricultural sector in turn will start small-scale consumer booms that would gradually snowball.

Officials point to the growth in primary-school attendance and the increasing levels of support from the international community. Money to fight HIV/AIDS is coming in and the private sector is being allowed more space to operate.

Information Minister, Bereket Simon, said despite opposition claims of abuses, campaigns for election had been a success.

"We are very pleased with the way things have been going," he told IRIN. "The process has been flawless." More importantly, he added, it was the public that owned the elections.

"This process has been owned by the public both in the rural and urban areas," Bereket added.


The success of the elections is a key point for foreign governments keeping a close eye on Ethiopia. Wealthy nations, which currently provide up to US $1.9 billion a year in aid, see the elections as a litmus test of the government’s commitment to democratic reform.

Some 319 international observers have been invited into the country, the first time monitors have been allowed. The Supreme Court also backed a move by local opposition groups to field domestic observers despite a challenge by the country’s election board.

Prof Okey Onyejekwe, an expert on African governance at the UN Economic Commission for Africa, said the observers were crucial.

"Observers lend legitimacy to the process, transparency and an even playing field for the opposition," he told IRIN. "It helps a lot in terms of how people will accept the outcome."

© IRIN - This article appeared originally on IRIN News.org and is published by engelund.dk according a general agreement. To view the original article, please click here.
IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks) is a project of UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
[This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]



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Opdateret d. 26.12.2005