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EU Observers say Ethiopian Vote Skewed in Favor of Ruling Party

  • Michael Onyiego

The European Union has released its anticipated report on the May legislative elections in Ethiopia. The report found serious flaws with the electoral process, which human rights groups say was marred by intimidation and the suppression of opposition.

Speaking Monday in Brussels, E.U. Chief Observer in Ethiopia Thijs Berman released the mission's final report, which found the playing field was heavily tilted towards the ruling Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front.

"There was an important lack of level playing field for the political parties, giving a clear advantage to the ruling party," Berman said. "The separation of ruling party and public administration was blurred at the local level in many parts of the country. There has been misuse of state resources by the ruling party."

More than 30 million voters took part in Ethiopia's legislative elections in May. While initially expected to be lower, turnout was around 93 percent, with more than 60 parties competing for more than 500 seats in parliament and nearly 2000 local seats. Though the report found the vote to be peaceful and well organized, Berman said this was not enough for the observation team.

"Even though the results were largely accepted, there were and there are very serious problems, leading to the conclusion that these elections did not meet international standards," Berman said.

One of the serious issues was the transparency of the vote. The Ruling EPRDF won 544 out of 547 seats in the parliament as well as 1,900 seats out of 1,904 provincial seats. According to the report, in 27 percent of the cases observed by the E.U. team, results reported at the polling stations differed from the results reported during tallying.

One of the report's main conclusion was that the Ruling EPRDF was able to maintain power by mobilizing state resources and withholding access to media. Reports by groups such as New York-based Human Rights Watch also found incidents of voter intimidation, including forced registration and harassment of opposition candidates.

According to Human Rights Watch Horn of Africa Researcher Leslie Lefkow, the E.U. findings should give pause to Ethiopia's foreign donors.

"The European Union in particular, but donors generally need to sit up and wake up to the fact that they cannot ensure that their aid is going where it needs to go in a politically uncompromised way. The E.U. report further illustrates that problem," Lefkow said.

The findings of the observation team were delayed after the Ethiopian government refused to allow Berman to announce his results in the country. According to the Chief Observer, it was the first such denial in more than 80 observation missions conducted by the European Union.

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