ETHIOPIA: Ruling party named winner in final result of disputed poll

ADDIS ABABA, 5 September 2005 (IRIN) - Ethiopia's ruling party has retained power after winning a majority of seats in national elections marred by violence and alleged fraud, according to final results released by the election board on Monday.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's ruling coalition, which has held power for 14 years, took 327 seats, winning another five-year term, the National Election Board of Ethiopia said.

The results meant the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front now controls 59 percent of the 547-seat parliament, losing around 150 seats during the polls.

Opposition parties took 174 seats - 32 percent of the seats - with the largest opposition group, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, taking 20 percent of the parliamentary seats. Opposition parties won only 12 seats during the last elections in 2000.

Ethiopia's elections were marred by controversy, with the European Union saying the 15 May ballot had failed to meet international standards in key areas.

The criticism elicited a furious response from the prime minister, who condemned the EU election observer mission report as "garbage".

Meles also launched a severe attack on EU chief observer Ana Gomes, describing her as a "self-appointed colonial viceroy" after she endorsed a bid by the opposition calling for a government of national unity, which the ruling party rejected.

"The good lady can apparently not take no for an answer from the natives," he wrote in a letter to the state-run Ethiopian Herald newspaper.

He added: "She apparently does not understand that as soon as these merely bad ideas become tainted by association with an election observer, turned self-appointed colonial viceroy hell-bent on twisting the arms of the government to force it to accept her dictates, merely discussing the ideas, let alone accepting them, becomes unthinkable."

Repeat elections were held on 21 August in 20 constituencies where the ruling party had complained of irregularities and in 11 districts where the opposition had filed challenges. Originally, complaints had been lodged in 299 constituencies.

Some senior government ministers - including Minister of Information Bereket Simon - managed to regain their seats in the repeat elections after losing them the first time round.

"Ethiopia is taking the democratic path and this election has been conducted in a very democratic way right from the start," Bereket said. "Complaints were investigated and reruns held. The democratic process and institutions are being created and developed."

He added: "We democratise to satisfy the demand of the Ethiopian people; it is in their interest. It is an internally driven democratic process that does not hang on the international community or European Union. We do it because we want it."

However, opposition parties were still threatening to withdraw from the parliament if they believed the polls were not free and fair. The vice chairman of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, Berhanu Nega, said the elections had failed to meet expectations.

"There is not an atmosphere of democracy here, what you see is an atmosphere of repression," he said. "We started with hope and that is being undermined by what happened in the election and the postelection repression."

The ruling party swept to power in 1991 after overthrowing the Marxist dictator, Mengistu Haile Mariam. The elections had been seen as a test of Meles' commitment to democratic reform.

Human rights groups have claimed that at least 42 people were killed in June when security forces fired on protesters angered by allegations of election fraud.

Theme (s): Governance,


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