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Ethiopian Opposition Coalition Calls for New Vote

A coalition of six Ethiopian opposition parties has rejected recent election results and is calling for a new vote. Government officials say the ruling party's landslide victory reflects the will of the people, while the opposition says the election was stolen.

Ethiopia's 65 political parties disagree on a lot of topics, but as opposition parties try to recover from what was a crushing loss, many are coming together on one subject: the election results.

The opposition parties took only 10 percent of the seats in the parliament, and they split those 47 seats seven ways.

A newly formed coalition of six opposition parties has joined together in calling for a new vote. They say the election was rigged in favor the ruling party, and candidates and voters were harassed.

The coalition says it intends to petition the election board and the courts for a new vote. If this process fails, the parties say they will continue the struggle, but they did not say how.

Government officials say political parties are welcome to air their grievances, but a new election is not likely.

Communications Minister Bereket Simon says complaints of fraud and voter harassment have been investigated, and no evidence was found to support them. He says opposition parties lost because they failed to make their case to the public.

"I think the public has spoken," he said. "There is no controversy in the landslide victory. If there is any controversy, it is only in those who have lost the public trust."

But coalition leaders say they have abundant evidence of wrong-doing, and their election observers were often expelled from the polling stations. They say when they entered the race, they believed government promises that the election would be fair and democratic.

Ethiopian Justice and Democratic Forces Front General Secretary Garasu Gassa says the promise of fair elections turned out to be a "joke."

"They say we [will] make a conducive environment," he said. "'Fair elections, free elections', they say, but now, it is not. Just we understand, they are joking."

Garasu also says the election system is stacked against opposition parties, naturally favoring the incumbent. The Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front, led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, has ruled the country since it ousted the former government in 1991.

In 2005, the last time Mr. Meles' party won the parliamentary elections, protesters claiming fraud took to the streets. Almost 200 people were killed and more than 100 were arrested in post-election violence. Many of the arrested politicians, journalists and activists were later pardoned, but some still live in exile, or in jail.

Bereket, the communications minister, says the EPRDF's popularity has nothing to do with fraud. The ruling party, he says, had a track record of consistently reducing poverty and encouraging development.

"It has done well in insuring rapid economic growth," he said. "The ruling party has ensured that this growth has benefited the lower bottom of the population."

A leader from the Ethiopian Justice and Democratic Forces Front, Tekle Borena, says the government will take their complaints seriously.

"We totally believe that the governing party will accept all of our requests which have been forwarded to it, according to the law and the rules and regulations of the country," he said. "Rules and regulations of the country have been violated, totally and seriously."

The leaders of Medrek and the All Ethiopian Unity Party, the country's largest opposition parties, called for new elections last week. The Ethiopia Democratic Party, which was the parliament's most active opposition party, also accused the government of fraud, but stopped short of calling for new elections.