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Ethiopian Opposition Fears Rout in Parliament Vote

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Early reports suggest Ethiopia's ruling party has won a massive victory in Sunday's parliament elections.  Almost every major opposition leader appears to have been defeated.

The headquarters of Ethiopia's main opposition party was like a funeral parlor as observers reported in from around the country, opposition leaders were dumbstruck at the possibility of a nearly complete rout.

High-profile leaders such as former president Negasso Gidada, senior figures in the parliamentary opposition Merera Gudina and Beyene Petros, all appear headed for defeat.

Other prominent political leaders, including Hailu Shewal and Lidetu Ayalew were also said to have conceded.  

In Addis Ababa, opposition parties won all 23 seats in parliament five years ago, but this time it looks as if they have been wiped out.

Sitting in a quiet back office of jailed opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa's Unity for Justice and Democracy party headquarters, parliamentary leader Temesgen Zewdie was devastated by the early results.

"It is a total surprise, a total shock, and we are sure investigating as to what went wrong for us to perform this poorly," said Temesgen Zewdie.

Temesgen said an opposition divided into many blocs made it easy for Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front in 'first past the post' contests.

"Medrek in Addis and the regions, in the preliminary showing, is second to EPRDF, and had this been proportional representation, we probably would have shared some seats with the ruling party, but since this is winner take all system, we are at a disadvantage," said Temesgen.

In the yard outside party headquarters, scores of young opposition supporters milled around, obviously upset.  Nineteen-year-old Achame Lazarus, who had served as a Medrek poll watcher Sunday, said the election had been stolen.

"We are practicing false democracy in Ethiopia, the principles are being told by our government officials, but as you can see from the ground level, things are going not on the right track," said Achame Lazarus.

Medrek senior leader and former Ethiopian president Negasso Gidada said the job of party elders is to cool down their disenchanted supporters to avoid a repeat of the violence that followed the disputed 2005 election.

"Maybe some of them are angry, but we will cool them, we will register the facts, what happened in the process, tell them what happened, and after telling them, we will tell them, be cool, we are a peaceful party, and when there are cases that have to go to the election board, and if it is not solved there we will go to the court," said Negasso Gidada.

The first word from election officials is the elections had gone smoothly and peacefully.  National Electoral Board spokesman Mohamed Abdurahman said there had been no reports of cheating.

"The board has received no single complaint formally, including the opposition parties, the public, the ruling party, they all said it was peaceful, calm and free," said Mohamed Abdurahman.

Ruling party officials were cautious in declaring victory.  Government Communications Minister Bereket Simon would only say it appeared as if the EPRDF had won comfortably.  Party spokesman Hailemariam Dessalegn said he was standing by earlier predictions of turnout possibly exceeding 90 percent.  

The European Union and African Union deployed a total of nearly 250 observers spread out across the country to monitor activities at 43,000 precincts.   EU Chief Observer Thijs Berman has scheduled a news conference Tuesday to deliver a preliminary verdict on the fairness of the vote.  

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