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AU Official: Ethiopian Vote Free And Fair, Opposition Complaints Exaggerated

A top official in the African Union has praised Ethiopia following the release of the final results of the May legislative elections. Patrick Mazimhaka, deputy chairman of the African Union Commission, calls the elections free and fair. He also comments on situation in Sudan, saying a big step toward peace was taken when a replacement for the late vice-president John Garang was quickly sworn in.

From Addis Ababa, Ambassador Mazimhaka spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua first about the aftermath of the Ethiopian elections.

He says, “Well, the African Union can only congratulate the Ethiopians for having gone through this painful exercise. I think the delays were not anybody’s fault, except that the opposition kept demanding to clarify things, to investigate things and the government and the electoral board were patient, so were the supporters. Now that the final results are in we are expecting that the issue’s over and next step is to form a government in Ethiopia come September.”

Ambassador Mazimhaka was asked if the political opposition had cause to challenge the results and make charges of irregularities. He says, “It’s always difficult to say. But I think it turned out, as investigations were carried out and our observers were there, that really the claims they had were grossly exaggerated. And the final results show indeed that they were exaggerated.”

Overall, how did Ethiopia handle the aftermath of the elections, which included violence? “I think the country handled itself very well, both the government and the people. There was indeed a scary moment…when the opposition tried to resort to violence and the government had to come in and stop that, unfortunately with the loss of some individuals. But following that, calm returned to the capital.”

Asked whether his comments mean he blames the opposition for elections problems and violence, Ambassador Mazimhaka replies, “It’s not really blaming the opposition facts…the riots that led to the deaths of people were indeed organized by the opposition – there’s no doubt about that.” He says that request to review about a hundred plus constituencies did result in delays, but he says “in the long run the elections were free and fair.”

As for the situation in Sudan following the sudden dearth of John Garang, he says, “I think the key question really was whether the SPLM would be able to replace John Garang immediately to continue where he left off. And I think they have done that. That’s a very important first step. And I see that the government of Sudan also welcomed the appointment of Salva Kiir Mayardit, which means they are prepared to work with the new leadership.”

He says now that the north/south peace deal is in place, he hopes the Khartoum government will take a “more bold move” toward peace in the Darfur region.