Thursday, May 28, 2015

Inside Story: The two faces of Ethiopia’s democracy

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

AU Observers Avoid Words ‘Free & Fair’ In Ethiopia Election Assessment VOA

 African Union observers have declared Ethiopia's recent election "Calm, peaceful and credible," but they stayed away from using the words 'Free and Fair" to describe the national poll held on May 24, 2015. (VOA)
By Anita Powell
AU Observers: Ethiopian Poll Was ‘Calm, Peaceful and Credible’
ADDIS ABABA— Calm, peaceful and credible: Those are three of the key words the African Union election observer mission used to describe Ethiopia’s national election, which is widely expected to produce yet another landslide for the nation’s longtime ruling party.
But “free and fair,” two critical adjectives, were missing from the assessment by the only foreign election observer mission present as tens of millions of Ethiopians voted Sunday.
“The AU Election Observers’ Mission concludes that the parliamentary elections were calm, peaceful and credible as it provided an opportunity for the Ethiopian people to express their choices at the polls,” said mission head Hifikepunye Pohamba, a former Namibian president.
Pohamba said the mission did not hear any reports of major violence or problems on election day. But he said observers saw ruling party allies openly urging voters inside the polling station and some stations opened before the stipulated 6 a.m. start time. He added the dark canvas ballot boxes in many stations were insufficiently transparent.
When VOA asked if the election was fair, free and transparent, AU observer Chika Charles Aniekwe did not answer directly. “We want you be guided by our pronouncement. We do not want to pronounce on what we have not seen. So our judgement on the election is that it was peaceful, it was calm and credible. So we do not want to delve into all we have not pronounced,” said Aniekwe.
Preliminary results due soon
This is the first vote since the 2012 death of Meles Zenawi, who had led the nation since 1991, first as president, then as prime minister. Meles’ successor, former academic Hailemariam Desalegn, is widely expected to stay in charge as head of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front.
Meles encountered an electoral roadblock in 2005, when an swell of support for the opposition overflowed into street protests. Government security forces opened fire on opposition supporters who accused officials of vote-rigging.
A public inquiry determined that 200 people were killed. Tens of thousands of opposition leaders and supporters were jailed.
The ruling party then won all but a single seat in parliament in the 2010 polls, though European Union observers criticized the ruling party for creating an unfair playing field for the opposition.
Before this election, the opposition accused the government of hindering their campaigns through arrests, harassment, intimidation and unequal access to funding. The government has denied the allegations.
AU observer chief Pohamba urged calm. “The AU Electoral Mission encourages political parties, candidates, their supporters and the electorate to maintain the prevailing atmosphere of peace that characterized pre-election and election day and urges for the use of the legal channels of complaints and appeals should there be any post-electoral disputes,” he said.
Ethiopia’s election board says it will soon release preliminary results. Final results are due June 22.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Ethiopian election marred by harassment claims | World news | The Guardian

Ruling party expected to hold on to power in first election since strongman Meles Zenawi died in 2012 but opposition groups complain of persecution

An Ethiopian flag hangs next to instructions on the voting process and a poster with the competing parties at a polling station in the Cazanchise area of Addis Ababa.

Ethiopians are voting in national and regional elections – the country’s first since the 2012 death of its longtime leader – with the ruling party expected to maintain its grip on power.
More than 38 million voters are eligible to cast ballots on Sunday. Some opposition groups had threatened to boycott the vote, saying their members were being harassed and detained – charges the government denies.
The prime minister, HailemariaEthiopia is a federal parliamentary republic, with the party or coalition that wins the most seats in the 547-seat parliament forming the government. All seats were at stake on Sunday, as well as local offices, but Desalegn is expected to remain in power.
In 2010, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front won 99.6% of parliamentary seats. Only one opposition lawmaker won a seat in an election that monitoring groups said was marred by intimidation and the harassment of opposition activists.
Human Rights Watch called that victory “the culmination of the government’s five-year strategy of systematically closing down space for political dissent and independent criticism”.
Those allegations have persisted for this year’s election. The government has denied the claims, accusing the opposition – and neighbouring Eritrea – of plotting to disrupt the vote.
“We remain vigilant and confident that the general election will be peaceful, free and fair, notwithstanding destabilisation attempts that may be tried by Eritrea or its local emissaries, which we will respond to with stern measures,” Desalegn said on Thursday.
More than 45,000 polling stations will be open, with nearly 250,000 election observers assigned to monitor them. The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia said provisional results are expected in a week but final results will not be released until 22 June.m Desalegn – a former university professor – has been leading the country since the death of strongman Meles Zenawi, who built the ruling coalition into a powerful political organisation, while opposition groups complain of persecution.

Ethiopia readies for elections but outcome not in doubt | Daily Mail Online

Ethiopia readies for elections but outcome not in doubt

Ethiopia, Africa's second-most populous country, readied Saturday for the first general election since the death of strongman Meles Zenawi, whose successor Hailemariam Desalegn is all but certain to stay in office.
Over 36.8 million Ethiopians have registered for Sunday's polls, but on Saturday life in capital Addis Ababa went on as normal. Apart from a few military vehicles at occasional crossroads, there was little sign that key elections were to be held the next day.
Analysts say the election falls far short of open competition.
A young man waves the ruling party Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) flag in front of a large crowd during an election EPRDF rally in...
A young man waves the ruling party Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) flag in front of a large crowd during an election EPRDF rally in Addis Ababa on May 21, 2015 ©Zacharias Abubeker (AFP/File)
"Electoral defeat is not on the cards for Ethiopia's ruling party, but it is vital for the country's development that it engages more effectively with dissenting voices," said Jason Mosley, from Britain's Chatham House think tank.
Posters of the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) dominate the capital Addis Ababa.
The EPRDF has been in power for over two decades and is confident of a win, but insists the result will be decided on its economic record alone. Ethiopia is now one of Africa's top performing economies and a magnet for foreign investment.
Rights groups -- which routinely accuse Ethiopia of clamping down on opposition supporters and journalists, and of using anti-terrorism laws to silence dissent and jail critics -- said Saturday the polls would not be free or fair due to a lack of freedom of speech.
Addis Ababa dismisses such criticism, with government spokesman Redwan Hussein telling AFP that voters would choose their representatives based on performance.
"If they want to give us another chance they will vote for us," he said. "If they have a grudge, they will not give their vote to EPRDF."
Polls open at 6:00 am (0300 GMT) on Sunday and close at 6:00 pm (1500 GMT), with initial results expected within two to five days, and final official tallies on June 22.
Ethiopia, whose 1984 famine triggered a major global fundraising effort, has experienced annual economic growth of more than 10 percent over the last five years, according to the World Bank.
Former Marxist rebel-turned-leader Meles, who died in 2012, was succeeded by Prime Minister Hailemariam, who has said he is committed to opening up the country's political system to allow more space for opposition parties.
- 'Exceptional' democracy? -
The opposition accuses the government of using authoritarian tactics to ensure a poll victory.
"The political space has been closed," said Yilekal Getinet, leader of Semayawi -- the "Blue Party" in Ethiopia's Amharic language, and one of the nation's main opposition parties.
Such complaints are dismissed as "baseless" by the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE).
"The environment created for political parties this year is exceptional," NEBE president Merga Bekana said.
The Election Commission will deploy some 40,000 observers at 45,795 polling stations.
The only foreign election observers are from the African Union, which has sent a team of 59 officials. The European Union and the US-based Carter Center, which monitored 2005 and 2010 elections, were not invited back this time.
"While symbolically significant... the polls are more of a logistical hurdle for the ruling party than a competitive, democratic exercise," Mosley said.
The ruling EPRDF won 2010 elections in a landslide. Those polls were peaceful, in contrast with 2005, when opposition accusations of irregularities sparked violence that left 200 people dead. The opposition won 172 seats in that vote, but only one in 2010.
This time, that solitary incumbent opposition MP has chosen not to run again. Meanwhile, polls in the constituency of the single independent legislator seeking reelection were postponed Friday, after he complained there had not been "enough time and space" for campaigning.
Ethiopia Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn (pictured) is seen as all but certain to stay in office
Ethiopia Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn (pictured) is seen as all but certain to stay in office ©Georges Gobet (AFP/File)

Ethiopia's dispirited election (VOA)

Ethiopia’s Ruling Party Is Expected to Keep Grip on Power -


Voters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, reading newspapers ahead of Sunday’s election. The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, which currently governs, is expected to win.CreditTiksa Negeri/Reuters

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Like the other people in his village, Berhanu Wodajo, a 40-year-old farmer, is planning to vote for “the bee.”
In the buildup to national elections on Sunday, the insect has become ubiquitous. Its image adorns banners over busy roads, placards at parades and fliers taped to corrugated steel walls. It is the symbol of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, which has held power in this country for 24 years.
“The bee is the government,” said Mr. Berhanu in Dakabora, a tiny village in central Ethiopia. “We don’t know anything about the other options.”
A total of 58 parties have fielded candidates for the federal Parliament and regional assemblies this year, and more than 36 million citizens are registered to vote in Sunday’s election, the first national poll since the 2012 death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who ruled the country for 17 years. His party, the E.P.R.D.F., now led by Hailemariam Desalegn, is expected to hold on to power.
Politicians from the ruling party have campaigned on a record of economic growth. The economy, according to government statistics, grew 10 percent annually over the past decade. The government has also touted construction of large-scale projects like the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which could more than triple electricity generation, and assistance to farmers that helped poverty rates fall from 44 to 30 percent between 2000 and 2011, according to the World Bank.
A spokesman for the E.P.R.D.F., Desta Tesfaw, said opposition parties had little to offer by comparison. “They are not strong enough,” he said. “They have no clear policy. They have no clear program.”
Opposition politicians, meanwhile, have tried to appeal to Ethiopians disillusioned with the ruling party’s tight control over the political sphere, and have campaigned particularly in urban areas.
But most voters believe the opposition stands little chance of success given the dominance of the E.P.R.D.F., especially in rural areas where about 80 percent of the population lives.
The opposition has also complained of harassment and arbitrary detentions, and human rights groups say that the government uses restrictions on free speech to muzzle its rivals.
“Our party members are being detained, and the government has arrested some of our supporters who were meant to be observers during the election,” said Yilkal Getnet, chairman of the opposition party, Semayawi.
This campaign season “has been marred by gross, systematic and widespread violations of ordinary Ethiopians’ human rights,” Amnesty International said in a statement. The African Union is deploying international observers this year; unlike past elections, the European Union was not invited.
The E.P.R.D.F.’s control over rural areas often makes the state and the party indistinguishable, creating an environment where low-level officials feel free to direct citizens on how to vote.
Mr. Berhanu said that the people had been instructed by local officials to cast their ballots for the status quo. “In other areas, they have opposition parties. Here, there is only one,” he said. “Only the bee.”
The ruling party has had a strong rural base since its inception as a rebel group during the 1980s, when it relied on a network of fighters in the countryside to battle a military government based in Addis Ababa.
Today, the government bolsters its support in rural areas through a range of development projects aimed at farmers: providing agricultural training and fertilizers, as well as health clinics and schools. “These farmers are receiving benefits,” said Ermias Abebe, a political analyst and former professor at Addis Ababa University. “And if you’re getting benefits because the E.P.R.D.F. is in power, you don’t want to lose that.”
The people of Dakabora have received a health clinic and agricultural training, but not all are enthusiastic about the ruling party. “The government has done nothing for us,” said Solomon Tefere, a village priest, who said that villagers’ thatched-roofed huts have no electricity or running water. Mr. Berhanu said local officials forced him to buy expensive fertilizer on the threat of losing the right to farm his land.
Alemayehu Girma, 30, said she attended a meeting for women this week, where officials taught her how to cast a ballot for the ruling party. “There were three options, and they showed us where to mark,” she said. “We are just going to vote for the one they suggested.”
Gebru Gebremariam Uttura is running for a parliamentary seat representing a rural constituency in central Oromia. He is the secretary general of the opposition coalition Medrek, which is second only to the E.P.R.D.F. in the number of candidates running.
While the ruling party has constant access to the population because it runs the state, opposition parties lack the channels to communicate with voters, Mr. Gebru said. “So in rural areas it is more difficult because people are always with the cadres of the E.P.R.D.F. because of development activities,” he said.
Opposition candidates have done better with urban voters, most notably in a 2005 election that resulted in unprecedented losses for the E.P.R.D.F. in Addis Ababa and other cities. But the results were contested, resulting in protests, a crackdown by the authorities and a boycott of Parliament by most of the elected opposition candidates.
Since then, the ruling coalition has moved to win urban voters with microenterprise grants, affordable housing and a light-rail system currently under construction in the capital.
Despite electoral rules that favor more established blocs, Mr. Yilkal’s young, center-right Semayawi party ranks third in the number of candidates registered for the election. But getting votes — even from those urban citizens who dislike the ruling party — remains a challenge.
“Many people will vote for the E.P.R.D.F. just because this country needs a government,” said Elias Tesfaye, 34, a trader in the capital who sees opposition groups as weak and fragmented. “People think that if another party is elected, the country will be in turmoil or ruined by disputes or corruption. So even though people don’t like this government, they think there is no alternative.”

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Is Ethiopia about to get more than one opposition MP? - BBC News

Is Ethiopia about to get more than one opposition MP?

The current parliament in Ethiopia has only one opposition representative. Could this all change when up to 36 million voters head for the polls this Sunday?
These will be the first elections since the death of the long-term Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in 2012. His Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has been in power for almost a quarter of a century, and faces no reasonable prospect of defeat.

A youth waves the ruling party Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) flag in front of a large crowd during an election rally by the EPRDF
The EPRDF has been in power for a quarter of a century

Who is participating in the polls?

There are 57 political groups which have registered for the election. Many of them are organised along ethnic lines.

Chart showing ethnic groups of Ethiopian population
Ethiopia has more than 80 different ethnic groups

Apart from the EPRDF, some of the main contenders include the Ethiopian Federal Democratic Unity Forum; a coalition popularly known as Medrek (the Forum); Unity For Democracy And Justice; and the Semayawi (Blue) Party, which was established in 2012, and has earned itself a reputation for organizing protest rallies and which draws support from young people.

Why have these elections caused controversy in the US?

US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman has praised Ethiopia as a democracy, prompting outrage among human rights organisations.
Speaking during a press briefing in Addis Ababa in April, Ms Sherman said: "Ethiopia is a democracy that is moving forward in an election that we expect to be free, fair and credible and open and inclusive in ways that Ethiopia has moved forward in strengthening its democracy. Every time there is an election it gets better and better."

US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman
US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman has praised Ethiopia

In a joint letter, various groups, including Amnesty International USA, said that through her statement the US endorsed ''a government that systematically suppresses the fundamental rights of its citizens. Political pluralism and the ability of Ethiopians to freely express themselves, associate, and participate in peaceful assembly is far more restricted today than ten years ago under the same government.''

What happened in previous elections?

In 2005, 174 opposition politicians won seats in the 547-seat parliament, but many did not take them up after pronouncing the vote rigged.
In the 2010 polls, Girma Seifu, of the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), was the sole opponent to win, while the ruling EPRDF garnered 99.6% of all parliamentary seats. An independent candidate was also elected.

What do opposition parties say about these polls?

The fractured opposition groups have accused the government of harassing their members and carrying out illegal detentions ahead of the elections.
One politician, Yonathan Tesfaye, spokesman for the Blue Party, told journalists that some party members had been beaten, especially in the southern region.

Addis Ababa
The capital Addis Ababa is expanding rapidly at a time of economic growth

But ruling party spokesman Desta Tesfaw dismissed the allegations and accused opposition groups of trying to discredit the elections, saying: "They don't have their own policies and agendas, and that's clear to the Ethiopian people."

Which outsiders are monitoring the polls?

The African Union has sent election monitors, but the European Union won't be sending observers. The EU said it hasn't been invited.
BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

NewsWires : euronews : the latest international news as video on demand

By Aaron Maasho and Drazen Jorgic
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopians vote on Sunday in an election likely to hand another sweeping victory to the ruling party, which boasts of delivering one of the fastest growing economies in Africa though opponents say it has crushed dissent at the same time.
The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has been in power since 1991, during which time the nation that was shattered by communist purges in the 1970s and a 1980s famine has drawn increasing foreign investor interest.
“Our past was bleak but the country has turned around its fortunes,” retired teacher Dawit Haileselassie said at an EPRDF rally in Addis Ababa this week where thousands gathered, close to a memorial museum to the victims of “Red Terror” purges.
He said he would be voting for the EPRDF. Its leader, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, took Ethiopia’s top post after the death in 2012 of Meles Zenawi, the rebel-turned-statesman and architect of the country’s transformation.
Unofficial results are likely to emerge in a few days, while the final tally will not be declared until next month.
Ethiopia has built new roads, railways and hydro-electric dams at breakneck pace, and attracted foreign brewers, textile firms and others. The World Bank said the economy would grow at 10.5 percent in the year starting July 2015.
But economists say heavy state investment, while driving growth, risks squeezing out private businesses vital to job creation in the Horn of Africa state.
Telecoms is a state monopoly, and foreigners cannot invest in banks or the retail sector.
Opponents say political freedoms have been trampled on, adding the polls will not properly reflect public opinion in a nation of 96 million people and 37 million registered voters.
“This is a government that says ‘this is the only way and there is no other way’,” said Bekele Gerba, a member of the biggest opposition grouping, the Medrek coalition, who was jailed for four years on what he says were trumped-up charges.
The government insists it guarantees free speech and does not jail anyone for their political views, accusing its opponents of being disorganised and lacking popular policies.
The outgoing parliament of 547 seats has just one opposition member. While 57 parties are taking part in the vote, experts say hardly any offer real opposition.
“I will not vote this time,” said Mikael, a taxi driver, who declined to give his last name for fear of government reprisals, adding that the EPRDF did “not play a fair game”.
Ethiopia’s newest opposition group, the Blue Party, said election authorities cut its list of 400 candidates to just 139.
Western donors have criticised the government for jailing bloggers and journalists. Officials say it only detains people for criminal offences.
The opposition won an unprecedented 147 seats in an election in 2005 but most did not join parliament, saying the ballot was rigged. In that vote, opponents swept up seats in Addis Ababa.
Loyalties are more difficult to gauge in rural parts of the country, where many live in poverty.
“In really rural areas, people don’t know anyone other than EPRDF, who put their logo on state handouts, like seeds and fertiliser,” said a political analyst who asked not to be named.
(Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Rights groups decry Ethiopia press clampdown ahead of elections - Yahoo News

Rights groups decry Ethiopia press clampdown ahead of elections

A young man waves the ruling party Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) flag in front of a large crowd during an election EPRDF rally in Addis Ababa on May 21, 2015
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Nairobi (AFP) - Rights groups have said Sunday's elections in Ethiopia, Africa's second most populous country, will not be free or fair due to a clampdown on freedom of speech.
Ethiopia is set to hold its first general election since the death of long-time strongman Meles Zenawi whose successor, Hailemariam Desalegn, is almost certain to stay in office.
Over 36.8 million Ethiopians have registered to vote in what is seen by the international community as a key test of the state's commitment to bringing greater democracy to the Horn of Africa nation.
Rights groups routinely accuse Ethiopia of clamping down on opposition supporters and journalists and using anti-terrorism laws to silence dissent and jail critics.
"Citizens are expected to choose the right party to lead them for the next five years. To do so, they need to have a clear understanding of their country's political, social, and economic situation," the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists said, with ranks Ethiopia as the "fourth most censored country" in the world.
"But in a country with limited independent media, many Ethiopians struggle to find the information needed to help them make informed decisions."
The ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has been in power for over two decades and is confident of a win, but insists the result will be decided on its economic record alone.
Ethiopia is now one of Africa's top performing economies and a magnet for foreign investment. The EPRDF won 545 of the 547 seats in parliament during the last elections in 2010.
This time, the only opposition MP has chosen not to run again, while polls in the constituency of the one independent MP seeking reelection were postponed Friday, after he complained there had not been "enough time and space" for campaigning.
"The lead-up to the elections has seen an onslaught on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly," Amnesty International said in a statement.
"This onslaught undermines the right to participation in public affairs freely and without fear as the government has clamped down on all forms of legitimate dissent."
The government routinely dismisses such critics, and government spokesman Redwan Hussein told AFP that voters would choose the representatives based on their performance.
"If they want to give us another chance they will vote for us," he said. "If they have a grudge, they will not give their vote to EPRDF