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Ethiopia Election Seen as ‘Free and Fair’ by Government Official

A top official of Ethiopia’s government told VOA he is proud of the administration’s handling of what he called a free and fair vote Sunday, despite opposition claims of voter intimidation and harassment.

Communications Minister Bereket Simon said he is confident the ruling Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) party is going to win the vote based on its record of improving the lives of the ordinary Ethiopian and its development programs.

“We prepared ourselves for the last five years despite the allegations that democracy has narrowed down. All what we did was to expand the democratic spectrum and they show that a free and fair environment will prevail. That is what we have been trying to do and that ultimately has paid off,” he said.

The electoral commission said it will announce provisional results of the vote 48 hours after the poll. But, opposition groups said Sunday’s vote was fraught with voter intimidation and harassment, which they said was the ruling party’s ploy to ensure its firm grip on power.

But, Communications Minister Simon said the competitiveness of the just-ended vote disproves the accusations.

“We know the opposition had designed a strategy whereby they tried to tarnish the whole democratic electoral process. The facts on the ground tell everybody that this has been a competitive election. And, more than 500 hours of airtime have been allotted to all, about nine televised debates by the public media have been done… the system accommodated even extra requests by the opposition. So, one can say we have issued [a] free and fair playing ground,” Simon said.

About 32 million registered Ethiopians were expected to participate in Sunday’s vote.

Simon said several opposition allegations were unfounded.

“This is not a new phenomenon. In the past, they have been complaining and submitting many new allegations. We’ve been verifying them [but] we were not able to prove what they have asserted. On the contrary, we have disproved every allegation,” Simon said.

Last week, senior officials of Ethiopia’s National Electoral Board (NEBE) said it was well prepared to guarantee a free and fair, as well as a transparent vote.

The electoral body says it deployed about 220,000 election officials in over 40,000 polling stations across Ethiopia.

Several local and international poll observers, including the African Union and the European Union, monitored Sunday’s vote. They are expected to soon present their final assessment of the election in the coming days.