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Ethiopian Government Confident Sunday's Polls Will be Credible

But opponents say the system favors the ruling party

A senior Ethiopian government official says Addis Ababa is ready to hold the May 23 parliamentary election in a free, fair and credible manner. Communications Minister Bereket Simon says allegations of politically motivated killings are an effort by the opposition to convince the international community that the electoral process is not credible.

“First,” says Bereket, “we have drafted a code of conduct which was discussed by a majority of political parties. Secondly, we have formed a joint party forum.

"[Also], the public broadcasting service has allocated about 570 hours of radio and television time to the parties; and, for the first time in our history the federal government has given political parties financial subsidies.

Communications Minister Bereket Simon
Communications Minister Bereket Simon

So in our opinion, everything is in place for the upcoming elections.”

Bereket also says voter registration has gone well. He said assertions by the opposition that the government was already violating the electoral code of conduct were a smear campaign by those who did not sign the code.

“Based on the facts on the ground, all pending cases that were submitted to the joint party forum have been investigated and 95 percent of the cases have been found to be untrue,” says Bereket.

“I hear that such concerns are raised by the parties who haven’t signed the code of conduct. This is a party which declined to sign [it] and yet has the audacity to accuse the ruling party of violating [it].”

In contrast, opposition leader Birhanu Nega is not optimistic about the fairness of Sunday’s ballot, and doubts it will bring change. Berhanu was a deputy chair of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, an opposition grouping that made impressive gains in the 2005 national polls.

Berhanu Nega
Berhanu Nega

He’s also the founder of the pro-democracy movement called Ginbot 7, a group the government says wants to overthrow the administration of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Last year, the Ethiopian Supreme court sentenced Birhanu to death in absentia. He’s now an Assistant Professor of Economics at Bucknell University in the state of Pennsylvania.

According to Beihanu, democracy requires that politics be conducted in a peaceful way, with a free exchange of ideas, open debate and universal suffrage. Ideally, various parties can present their policy proposals and ask the public to vote for them.

“There is no such thing in Ethiopia,” assert Birhanu. "There [are] no politics in the real sense of the word in Ethiopia.”

“What you have,” he says,“is a government that is terrorizing society. It is in power by force, it wants to maintain its power by force, and in so far as that exists, any meaningful politics is not possible.”