Ethiopia's election campaign is coming to a frantic end, as a ban on political activity sets in 48 hours before the polls open Sunday. The ruling party is predicting a landslide victory, while the opposition is crying foul.
Tens of thousands of flag-waving supporters of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) gathered in the national stadium Thursday for one final rally before the campaign deadline. Law requires the next two days will be quiet before voting begins.
With the campaigning done, EPRDF officials are predicting a nationwide landslide victory. Spokesman and parliamentary whip Hailemariam Dessalegn says the polls suggest the ruling party will increase its already large majority in parliament.
"We did have 65 percent of the seats in the last parliament, but this time we feel we will have much more seats. The polling study we made from our party side shows us that the seats we are gonna get are much more greater than what has happened last time," he said.
Hailemariam says a landslide victory would be taken as a vote of confidence in EPRDF economic policies designed to raise living standards in one of the world's poorest countries. "We know the country is moving in the right direction. And development is occurring in huge amounts, so we'll continue doing this, and enhance those deficiencies we have to fill the gaps," he said.
Opposition leaders spent the final day of the campaign complaining of ruling party dirty tricks they say have made a fair election impossible. They accuse local officials loyal to the EPRDF of preventing them from holding a big campaign ending rally.
Beyene Petros, chairman of the opposition Medrek coalition, says a landslide EPRDF victory would raise suspicions the vote was rigged. "I would take that as overwhelming rigging, not victory. Victory presupposes competition. This overwhelming victory simply means vote rigging, fraudulent election. I only understand it in that context," he said.
Opposition parties boycotted of the 2008 nationwide local council elections, saying last-minute rule changes had rigged the game. The ruling party and it allies went on to sweep virtually every one of 3 and a-half million council seats.
Senior Medrek leader Bulcha Dimeksa charges rigging is just as bad this time. But he says the opposition prefers to stay in the fight, despite the long odds.
"Why do we contest, knowing it's going to be rigged? Not to contest is bad for our country, we may be thrown into chaos. We should go through the motion because it would add to the experience of our people, one more election rigged and maybe it will be impossible to rig the 5th one, or the 6th one, so I believe we should participate in this election regardless of whether we are going to win or not," he said.
Members of the National Electoral Board Thursday rejected opposition fraud claims. Vice-chairman Addisu Gebre Egzhiabher said 62 complaints had been received, and almost all had been found to be baseless.
Electoral Board officials say it will take nearly a month to count all the votes and issue official results. But leaders of all parties say the outcome should be clear by Monday, the day after the voting.