Recap: Ethiopian Election coverage in the International Media

May 25 2015

Millions of Ethiopians went to about 45,000 voting stations to elect Federal and State legislatures on Sunday.

The event was covered by several international media agencies. Here are highlights from some:

VOA’s pre voting day summary of the election was as follows:

Ethiopia will hold a major election Sunday, but critics of the longtime ruling party say systematic repression has made this vote a nonevent. Outside of the country, Ethiopians who say they are political refugees have even harsher words for the government.

On the streets of Ethiopia’s capital, it’s hard to ignore that an election is coming. But banners and blaring songs aside, this is an oddly quiet election in a nation of some 90 million people.

The Associated Press has reported on the conduct of the voting as follows:

Ethiopians voted Sunday in national and regional elections in which the ruling party is expected to maintain its iron-clad grip on power.

Some opposition leaders said their members had been harassed and beaten up while trying to cast their ballots.

A spokesman for the opposition Blue party, Yonathan Tesfaye, told The Associated Press that Sunday’s election was “full of games,” apparently referring to electoral malpractices.

The BBC’s account of the turnout and the voting process reads:Photo - PM Hailemariam Desalegn voting Ethiopian election

…No major irregularities were reported, election officials said. However, the opposition said their representatives were barred from some polling stations. Voting in some areas has been extended to Monday after some polling stations ran out of ballot papers.

Observers from the African Union issued an initial assessment to say the polls were conducted in a calm and peaceful manner. Some preliminary results will be announced this week, the electoral board says. Full results are due next month.

Many of the voters turned up early at polling stations. People stood quietly in the queues, talking in low tones. At each polling station, there were separate lines for women and men. Most of the women in one polling station in Addis Ababa, were covering their heads with the traditional netela, a handmade cloth.

“As a woman, this moment is very important for me because I have seen so many changes during this regime, especially roads and bridges and development in villages. Long ago, women had to walk long kilometres to get water but now they can get water easily,” government supporter Samira Abdull Razak told me.

A Semayawi Party supporter, Yonathan Tesfaye said he was voting for change: “If the government doesn’t interfere with the votes then I expect that the opposition will get at the very minimum, 100 seats in parliament, but you never know.”

Aljazeera had this to say on the election:

Nearly 37 million Ethiopians have registered to vote and they are casting their ballots at tens of thousands of polling stations across the country. Western observers were not invited and the opposition alleges the government has used authoritarian tactics to ensure a poll victory.

Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow, reporting from the capital, Addis Ababa, said voting was going smoothly on Sunday but that the opposition had complained of irregularities in the run-up to the election.

“The opposition is fractured. They have been complaining of harassment and intimidation of their supporters, particularly in the rural areas.” Adow added.

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 on Saturday that the polls would not be free or fair due to a lack of freedom of speech.

The Guardian has summarized the voting as:

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.

…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.

The Guardian’s Global development blog has featured an article written by Daniel Calingaert and Kellen McClure of Freedom House.

On Sunday, millions of Ethiopians will line up at polling stations to participate in Africa’s largest exercise of political theatre. A decade-long campaign by Ethiopia’s government to silence dissent forcibly has left the country without a viable political opposition, without independent media, and without public challenges to the ruling party’s ideology.

For most Ethiopians, these elections are a non-event.

The one potential dividend of these sham polls, however, is the international attention they will garner for the government’s growing political repression. The blatant disregard for internationally recognised standards for free and fair elections just might convince Ethiopia’s largest donors that it is time to rethink their relationship with an increasingly authoritarian government.

Ethiopia’s election should be a wake-up call for the international community. With each successive election that does not allow genuine choice, both apathy and resentment grow, and Ethiopia risks falling prey to the same instability that has plagued its neighbours.

The Wall Street Journal’s Frontiers reported the election focusing on claims of fraud and foreign interference.

The controversy over the poll underscores the struggle Western nations have with Ethiopia—praised for its economic progress and security but criticized roundly for seizing lands from farmers, jailing journalists and silencing opposition parties.

“There’s no desire from the outside world to destabilize this regime,” said Richard Dowden, the director of Britain’s Royal African Society. “It’s not giving us any trouble; it’s a good destination for investment.”

Ethiopia is seen as a good place to do business because corruption is generally low and the country’s state-controlled industries are stable. Big private-equity firms like New York-based and Blackstone are investing in the country.

Voting appeared to go forward smoothly on Sunday, although at least one opposition leader charged that some of its members had been beaten up and that some polling stations opened with already-full ballot boxes.

“When they went to the polling station this morning, they saw that the boxes were already filled up with marked papers,” said Beyene Petros, the chairman of an opposition coalition called Medrek. Election board spokesman Demissew Benti said he had no reports of any problems with the voting. Asked directly about the allegation of the opposition leader he said: “It is not true.”

Reuters has summarized the voting day as follows:

Ethiopians voted on Sunday in a parliamentary election that is expected to hand a landslide win to the ruling party, which boasts about delivering strong economic growth, while opponents complained that their supporters were harassed.

“In so many village areas, our people are being harassed and our representatives are being driven away. They are forced to vote for the EPRDF,” Bekele Nagaa, a member of the biggest opposition coalition Medrek, told Reuters.

The government dismissed the charge. It has promised a free and fair vote.

Experts do not expect a major shift in opposition fortunes in this vote, the first since Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn took over from Meles Zenawi, the rebel-turned statesman who died in 2012.

“I will give my vote to the ruling party because I do not have faith in the opposition parties’ ability to govern,” said graphic designer Yohannes Seife, 24.

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