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Second Opposition Faction Preparing Boycott of Ethiopia Vote

The biggest opposition party that participated in Ethiopia's nationwide elections Sunday is planning to boycott the second part of the voting, charging the first half was rigged. Another, larger opposition group had pulled out even before the first vote. VOA's Peter Heinlein in Addis Ababa reports the withdrawal of the two largest opposition factions would clear the way for Ethiopia's ruling party to take control of local councils nationwide, and to increase its majority in parliament.

The leadership of the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement voted Monday to join a boycott when Ethiopia votes in critical municipal elections next Sunday.

The OFDM had been the largest opposition party participating last Sunday, as Ethiopians voted for the first time since 2005, when post-election protests turned deadly. Two hundred people were killed in the violence, and thousands were jailed, including most opposition leaders.

OFDM leader Bulcha Demeksa says his party had decided not to join the boycott for the first part of the vote.

But Monday, he accused election officials and the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front of massive intimidation and rigging, and said his party would join the boycott.

"We went in for the sake of peace and stability in our country," said Bulcha Demeksa. "We did not want to be the cause of any crisis. But when the government shows no willingness to cooperate, and wants to be the only party which governs ethiopia, then we have no hope. We cannot work with this kind of party. We have to quit and show the world we are not able to work with them."

Bulcha says preliminary results indicate his party did not win a single race Sunday in which it entered a candidate. Official results were not immediately available, but reports from political leaders indicate the ruling EPRDF and its allies won huge majorities.

Bulcha told VOA his party was not just defeated, but obliterated. He says as a result, he may be silenced in parliament because he no longer commands the minimum ten seats necessary to be considered a party.

He accused the EPRDF of using the elections as a means of instituting one-party rule in Ethiopia.

"This is happening because the EPRDF wants to be the only party ruling Ethiopia," said Bulcha. "We've heard it. They've said they believe in the so-called dominant party. They want through semi-legal means to eliminate all the political parties in Ethiopia and remain the only political party that keeps power in Ethiopia."

National Election Board office chief Tesfaye Mengesha told VOA Monday that Sunday's turnout compared well with the 2005 vote. He said 24 million had cast ballots. It is not clear what percentage of the voting age population that represents, because there is no current census information available for Ethiopia, but the total voting age population is estimated to be roughly 40 million.

VOA reporters found polling stations nearly empty for the most part, but election board official Tesfaye attributed that to the addition of thousands of new locations that made voting faster.

The Chief of the Political Bureau of the EPRDF, Bereket Simon, on Monday expressed general satisfaction with the election. He declined further comment until results are announced. Asked when results could be expected, he quipped, "it will be quicker than in Zimbabwe."

Earlier, Bereket denied there had been any intimidation or vote-rigging. He said the election board had investigated opposition complaints and found them to be without merit.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's EPRDF is almost certain to sweep next Sunday's elections, too. The party fielded nearly four million candidates for about 3.8 million positions being contested. The 32 opposition parties combined were able to register only a few thousand candidates. Opposition leaders complained in advance that as many as 98 percent of their prospective candidates had been rejected by election officials.