May 26, 2015, ADDIS ABABA
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.