EU Observers Validate Ethiopian Election with Moderate Recommendations

[Use the link at the bottom to download the full report in English or Amharic]

EU Observers released their final report on Ethiopian election on Monday. Given the moderateness of the report, it is puzzling why the Ethiopian government refused to host the press conference to release the report, which was held in Brussels rather than in Addis Ababa.

[Use the link at the bottom to download the full report in English or Amharic]

EU Observers released their final report on EthiopianEuropean Union election on Monday. Given the moderateness of the report, it is puzzling why the Ethiopian government refused to host the press conference to release the report, which was held in Brussels rather than in Addis Ababa.

At first glance, the 41 page final report is much similar to the May 25/’10 preliminary report, which Prime Minister Meles Zenawi considered mostly factual while lamenting its ideologically toned and unfounded conclusions, in a press conference on May 26/’10.

Presumably, the government had the chance to see the final report before its release, according to EU election observers manual. Thus, it may be the Chief Observer’s unwillingness to make corrections and to remove statements that overreach its mandate. It could also be resultant of the government’s increasing intolerance towards western interference.

Be it as it may, let’s see three parts of the report, saving a full review of the report for another day, that is, if necessary at all.

The Report’s Recommendations

The report forwards twenty-nine ‘suggestions and recommendations’, which the executive summary summed up in four bullet points, ‘to help promote further improvements in the Ethiopian electoral process.’ The recommendations can justifiably be considered modes, at least in comparison to Ana Gomez’s report.

While some are useful and some dwell on trivial matters with little significance,

1. Some of the recommendations are vague at best. For example, one recommendation states: ‘The national capacity of political parties needs to be strengthened, possibly through the implementation of capacity-building programmes.’ This is not a recommendation one expects to find in a report that reiteratively notes the mistrust of the opposition with every public institutions. Unless, an advise to assign foreign organizations for the proposed capacity building program is around the corner.

2. Impracticality of some recommendations is evident at first glance. Like the recommendation for a computerized voter list(which’d be about 37 mil); or the development of a full-fledged structure for the Election Board(NEBE) with no overlap with Kebele structures which means allocating about 200,000 personnel solely for NEBE.

The recommendation for the introduction of a proportional representative electoral system is far fetched for an election observation report. One needs to consider to assess the level of fragmentation in the countries politics and the need for a stable government before reaching such a conclusion. Moreover, proportional electoral system is not uniformly accepted in Europe, nor is it in the list of ‘minimum standards of election’, not to mention its contradiction with the Ethiopian constitution.

3. There is also a naive recommendation for increasing the capacity of political parties and the political space. One of the four ‘key recommendations’ in the executive summary reads:

the changes in the legal framework together with the fragmentation of the main opposition forces in the aftermath of the 2005 elections, as well as the imprisonment of leading opposition figures and the departure in exile of one opposition leader, resulted in a cumulative narrowing of the political space within the country.’ [emphasis mine]

The phrase could only be referring to Birtukan Mideksa and Birhanu Nega(PhD). It is known that Birtukan Mideksa is released on a second pardon last month. It seems the report was prepared before last September.

On the other hand, Birhanu Nega’s exile is self-imposed. In fact, he never claimed the government forced him to leave the country. He went to USA a month after he was released on pardon on July/2007 and never came back. Several months later, he established a political party, Ginbot 7, with an explicit objective of overthrowing the government. It was only after the 2009 failed plot, financed by Ginbot 7, to assassinate public officials and bomb institutions, that an Ethiopian court sentenced him to death in absentia.

It may not be improper to suggest the return of Birhanu Nega and the release of Birtukan Mideksa in accordance with the law. Infact, the report labels, rightfully, the two issues ‘legal cases’ in recommendation no. 11, where it calls for ‘the review of these leaders’ legal cases’.

However, it needs a stretch of imagination to consider the involvement of the two politicians as a prerequisite for the reawakening of the opposition movement. One may provide some arguments, albeit shaky, to show the significance of Birtukan’s release to cast away  apprehensiveness. Yet, no serious observer would posit that the leadership of the two individuals would turn opposition politics around. This is not only a simple-minded suggestion, perhaps it indicates how little the observers think of the current opposition party leaders.

On the Vote Counting Process

The report puts note worthy points about the votec130f342-e731-5af5-6770b9d8a0707604 counting process. Though it indicates the scale of the problems, through percentage, unfortunately it fails to indicate the causes and their significance in the concerned polling stations. However, the report reaffirms two undisputable facts:

First, there is no issue with the vote counting in the majority of areas, which means EPRDF’s win is legitimate. Second, there was no systematic manipulation even in constituencies where some inconsistency were observed.

However, the report’s failure to specify the types of irregularities observed is dismaying. Because, that could have enabled us to weight their probable impact. It should be noted that there are 150 plus rules, in 25 pages, that deal with the counting of votes and announcement of results in Directive 05/2000 of NEBE. Though all rules important, some are more important when it comes to altering the results. The report failed to cast light on that.

Here are the main points:

* The Consolidation of polling station results  ended not latter than five days after polling day in 75% of cases observed.

* In 40% of cases, EU EOM observers assessed that results were not summed up in a clear and transparent manner. This was partly due to the premises used in the process, which were often too small to accommodate all materials, party agents and observers, and allow for adequate observation of the consolidation. Difficulties were also noted due to the handwritten nature of the process.
Other problems were consistent with the difficulties observed at the opening and closing of polling stations regarding the recording of used, unused, valid or invalid ballots. The required forms were often not completed by election officials, partly due to deficiencies in their training. Moreover, inefficient form designs and the need to produce several copies manually, without carbon paper, also delayed and discouraged election workers.

* In 27% of cases observed by the EU EOM, polling station results were not the same as those previously recorded. In a number of cases, incorrect or incomplete forms from polling stations were corrected or completed at constituency offices, thereby removing a key element to crosscheck the accuracy of figures. Two forms were used at consolidation, for each of the elections: “Form 8” recorded summaries of results, while “Form 10” listed results for each polling station. In 13% and 20% of cases observed, “Form 8” was not completed for, respectively, elections to the HPR and State Council elections. In about a third of cases, “Form 10” was not completed for either election. In over a third of cases, results forms were not posted at the constituency electoral offices.

* The Mission compared a sample of poling station and constituency results collected by EU observers, with the results received by the NEBE headquarters, and found that the number of valid votes were generally consistent, even if there were minor differences in some cases. However, the recorded figures for invalid and unused ballots were extremely inconsistent. EU EOM observers’ records of polling station tallies for valid and invalid votes and unused ballots varied in 60% of cases (77 out of 129 cases), often by several hundred. There was no pattern as to which figures increased or decreased. At constituency level, there were minor differences in vote tallies for the various candidates but frequent and significant differences in figures for ballot tallies. These were different in 64% of cases and varied by several thousand in a number of cases.

Opposition Parties Complaints & Appeals
The report puts the petitions of the op position parties, the appeal and why it was rejected. It appears the observers conceded that the opposition had no case to litigate. However, unlike any other part of the report, there is no praise or criticism on anyone regarding the matter.

The report states:

The NEBE is mandated with the power to order re-run elections in certain polling stations if political parties submit evidence of electoral malpractices during voting and counting. Three official complaints were directly submitted to the NEBE, who accepted them although they had not followed the prescribed channels from constituency level.

The first complaint was filed by the AEUP on 25 May, although it submitted its evidence on 1 June. The AEUP called for re-elections alleging numerous violations that had mainly occurred before Election Day. The NEBE responded that the issues had already been dealt with and that they did not constitute reasonable grounds to call for re-elections. Similarly, on 1 June, Medrek requested nation-wide re-elections stating that the elections had not been free and fair. Most of the claims in their complaint referred to the pre-election period but also included allegations of multiple voting and of their party agents not being allowed to enter polling stations on Election Day. The NEBE considered that Medrek had not produced sufficient evidence to substantiate its claims and rejected them. A third challenge was presented by the Sidama Liberation Movement also calling for re-elections in the constituencies where it had contested the elections, claiming numerous irregularities throughout the process.

None of the challenges that were filed before the NEBE referred to irregularities that occurred during Election Day, which could indeed be considered as legitimate grounds to call for reelections. Even though the parties identified the regions and areas where the alleged incidents occurred, they failed to specify specific polling stations and to submit concrete supporting evidence.

The AEUP and Medrek appealed the NEBE decisions at the Federal Supreme Court (FSC).
After some controversy regarding deadlines, the court decided to accept the appeals. The FSC confirmed the NEBE’s decisions on the grounds that most of the issues regarding the preelectoral process had been previously dealt with and that the parties had not exhausted the
available remedies before filing their appeals: The FSC also added that the parties had presented insufficient evidence for their allegations.

Here is an Executive Summary of the Final Report.



This report was produced by the European Union Election Observation Mission to Ethiopia 2010 and presents the mission’s findings on the 23 May 2010 elections to the House of People’s Representatives and State Councils. These views have not been adopted or in any way approved by the European Commission and should not be relied upon as a statement of the European Commission. The European Commission does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this report, nor does it accept responsibility for any use made thereof.

Ethiopia held its fourth elections to the House of People’s Representatives (HPR) and State Councils on 23 May 2010. The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) was present in Ethiopia from 14 April to 21 June 2010, following invitations from the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE). The EU EOM was led by Mr. Thijs Berman, Member of the European Parliament. The Mission deployed 170 observers from 25 European Union Member States, as well as, Norway, Switzerland and Canada to all the country’s regions, to assess the electoral process against international and regional commitments for elections as well as the laws of Ethiopia. The EU EOM is independent in its findings and conclusions and adheres to the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation commemorated at the United Nations in October 2005. On Election Day, EU EOM observers visited 815 polling stations in every region of Ethiopia to observe voting and counting.

The 23 May 2010 elections were held in a generally peaceful environment, as unanimously called for by all stakeholders. The relatively quiet election campaign by both the opposition and
the incumbent, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), grew in
intensity in the very last stages of the campaign. Although, the National Electoral Board of
Ethiopia (NEBE) largely managed the electoral process in an efficient and competent manner,
its handling of the consolidation process was less praiseworthy. The electoral authorities failed
to dispel the opposition parties’ lack of trust in their independence. While several positive
improvements were introduced since the 2005 elections, there were negative developments in
the practical application of the legal and electoral framework. As a result, the electoral process
fell short of international commitments for elections, notably regarding the transparency of the
process and the lack of a level playing field for all contesting parties. Insufficient efforts were
taken to ensure a more equitable and representative electoral process.

The Ethiopian Constitution and legal framework provided an adequate basis for the conduct of
genuine elections in line with international and regional commitments subscribed to by Ethiopia.
The Constitution, Electoral Law and other election-related regulations protect political and civil
rights and allow for genuine elections, as well as the freedoms of association, assembly,
movement and expression. However, the practical implementation of some laws and regulations
regarding elections deviated in certain cases from the principles underlying these commitments.
The electoral process was therefore constrained, as was the full, non-discriminatory, enjoyment
of fundamental rights.

The changes in the legal framework together with the fragmentation of the main opposition
forces in the aftermath of the 2005 elections, as well as the imprisonment of leading opposition
figures and the departure in exile of one opposition leader, resulted in a cumulative narrowing of
the political space within the country. The ruling party’s presence throughout the country was
unrivalled by opposition parties, especially in rural areas which house up to 80% of the
Ethiopian population.

The NEBE administered the elections in a competent and professional manner given its limited
resources, overcoming significant technical challenges. However, some shortcomings were
noted in the training of polling station staff and in the consistency and coherence of technical
information received and aggregated by the electoral authority, such as complete polling station
lists, which affected the overall transparency of the process. Insufficient measures were taken to
increase the level of trust of some opposition parties in the impartiality and independence of the

The NEBE registered 31,926,520 voters for the 2010 elections, out of approximately 37 million
eligible citizens according to its own projections. This reflected a relatively inclusive register
that included around 5 million more voters than in 2005. Voter registration was carried out in
just six weeks, which is a relatively short period. Voter registration took place before the
deployment of the EU EOM and was therefore not directly observed by the Mission. The lack of
a centralised and computerised national voter register did not allow for any checks for multiple
registrations or any audits.

Candidate registration was carried out in an adequate manner. The requirements for candidates
were not discriminatory. The NEBE displayed commendable flexibility in agreeing to extend
the deadline for candidate registration following a request by the National Joint Council for
Political Parties. Unfortunately, it did not do the same for the Somali Region. The introduction
of public financing for political party candidates was a positive measure, however, the amount
was generally considered insufficient to conduct an effective campaign.

The number of complaints of campaign violations, harassment and intimidation -including cases
of violence- voiced primarily by opposition parties and, to a much lesser extent, by the ruling
party, increased in the last weeks of the campaign. The volume and consistency of complaints
against the ruling party, local administrations and in some cases the police was a matter of
concern that must be taken into account in the overall assessment of the electoral process.
Beyond the repeated calls for peaceful elections, greater measures to limit possible harassment
and intimidation could have been taken by the government and all political parties.

The freedoms of assembly, of expression and of movement were not consistently respected
throughout the country during the campaign period, generally to the detriment of opposition
parties. All parties favoured door-to-door canvassing, although some rallies were held -mainly
by the EPRDF. Campaign activities were generally focused on the last week of the campaign,
given most parties’ lack of funds.

The media covered the main campaign events in a relatively neutral tone. However, state-owned media failed to ensure a balanced coverage, giving the ruling party more than 50% of its total coverage in both print and broadcast media. The airtime specifically allocated to the electoral campaign for parties and candidates was distributed proportionately to the different candidates. It was observed that the media were often very cautious in their reporting. The jamming of the Voice of America Amharic Service throughout the campaign period, and of Deutsche Welle a couple of days before the elections, reduced the possibility for voters to receive information from a wider range of sources. This was not compensated by other media, as the limited outreach of print and broadcast media reduced their role in providing voters with information to make an informed choice.

The separation between the ruling party and the public administration was blurred at the local level in many parts of the country. The EU EOM directly observed cases of misuse of state resources in the ruling party’s campaign activities. The role of the kebele’s (administrative unit that comprises rural communities or urban neighbourhoods) which are used to good avail in the development of local communities should be gradually reduced in the electoral process to prevent these situations from occurring. This could also help to increase the level of trust of opposition parties in the process. Even taking into account the inherent advantages of the incumbency, the Mission considers that the playing field for the 2010 elections was not sufficiently balanced, leaning heavily in favour of the ruling party in many areas.

Women are under-represented in the Ethiopian political scene and within the electoral administration. According to data from the NEBE, women constituted 47.8% of registered voters, slightly beneath their actual demographic weight. Among the candidates for the 2010 elections, women represented around 12% and 15% of candidates respectively for the HPR and the State Councils, which was less than in the 2005 elections. The EPRDF’s 30% quota was a positive step to ensure a greater representation of women. The provision of greater public financial assistance to women candidates was a welcome initiative to promote the representation
of women.

The NEBE decided to retain exclusive competence in the field of voter education. The EU EOM considers that the voter information provided by the NEBE was generally insufficient and that too often, political parties and local administrations were the main exponents of voter education in rural parts of the country. The exclusion of civil society organisations from voter education, together with the new and more restrictive Ethiopian Charities and Societies Law, limited the potential role of local organisations in the electoral process.

The provisions for complaints related to voting, counting and consolidation were significantly strengthened in the last five years. Nonetheless, the EU EOM considers that further measures must be implemented to ensure that they provide the opportunity for effective legal remedy on election-related complaints, in light of opposition parties’ lack of confidence in the independence and neutrality of the judiciary and the police. Additionally, the channels for complaint adjudication should be rationalised to avoid that offences go unpunished.

Election Day unfolded in a generally peaceful and orderly manner, with a high voter turnout. Secrecy of the vote was respected despite minor irregularities. The EU EOM observed an inconsistent application of procedures especially at the opening and closing of polling stations. Party agents, mainly from the EPRDF, and domestic observers were present in the majority of observed polling stations. Polling procedures were assessed positively by EU EOM observers in 87% of visited polling stations, while closing and counting were assessed positively in 66% of cases. In 25% of observed polling stations copies of results forms were not given to party agents and in nearly half, results were not posted outside the polling station, thereby compromising the transparency and credibility of the counting process.

The NEBE announced provisional results less than 48 hours after polling stations closed, thanks to a parallel system of communication allowing for the aggregation of polling station results at the national level. The consolidation process at constituency level was considered very problematic according to EU EOM observers. In 27% of cases observed, polling station results were different to those previously recorded by observers at polling stations. In several cases, incomplete or incorrect forms from polling stations were corrected or completed at constituency electoral offices. The transparency of the process was considered unsatisfactory in 40% of observed cases. Certain essential forms for the correct transmission of results to the national level were not filled in numerous constituencies.

A number of rallies against a very critical Human Rights Watch report followed the
announcement of provisional results on the elections, which also served as victory celebrations
for the EPRDF. At these rallies, banners were also visible carrying slogans against the EU
EOM, suggesting that the Mission had “a political agenda” against the ruling party. Official
results were released on 21 June and were accepted by most parties. Medrek and the AEUP
rejected the results and unsuccessfully presented requests to the NEBE calling for nation-wide
re-elections. Both parties appealed the NEBE decision at the Federal Supreme Court (FSC). The
FSC confirmed the NEBE’s decision.

The ruling party and its partner parties won 544 of the 547 seats to the HPR and all but four of
the 1,904 seats in the State Councils. The participation rate was of 93.4%. An independent
European Union Election Observation Mission to Ethiopia 2010 Page 4 of 38
Final Report on the House of People’s Representatives and State Council Elections
candidate and a candidate from one of the main opposition coalitions, the Ethiopian Federal
Democratic Unity Forum (Medrek) won seats to the HPR. A candidate from a relatively smaller
party, the Argoba People’s Democratic Organisation (APDO), won the third seat. The APDO
won three State Council seats. The All Ethiopian Unity Party (AEUP) won one State Council
seat. The results indicate that the EPRDF has a practically absolute control over both the lower
legislative chamber and the State Councils.

A comprehensive list of suggestions and recommendations is included at the end of this Final
Report for consideration by the relevant authorities in order to promote further improvements in
certain areas of the election process. Key recommendations include:
• Measures are necessary to increase the participation and capacity of opposition parties, as well as the broadening of political space in Ethiopia. The return of exiled opposition leaders as well as the release of imprisoned opposition leaders would be important steps in this direction, restoring confidence in the democratic process. The financing of political parties and of election campaigns could be reviewed together with the implementation of capacity-building programmes for political parties, their members and their candidates.
• Steps should be taken to ensure a clear separation between the ruling party and the state and to avoid the misuse of state resources during the campaign. The NEBE should be provided with sufficient resources to reduce the need to resort to local administrative structures in electoral activities gradually, with a view to create an independent and trustworthy election management body. This would help to prevent the occurrence of abuses of power and use of state resources at the local level. Furthermore, this measure could improve the level of confidence of many opposition parties in the electoral process.
• The voter register should be computerized for future electoral processes to allow for the implementation of essential safeguards to ensure its accuracy, as well as greater transparency by providing copies of the voter register to all political parties. The NEBE could consider the creation of a permanent and national voter register.
• The NEBE should take measures to increase the transparency of the electoral process
and improve the perception that some opposition parties have of its impartiality. These measures should include publishing and communicating all electoral information to the contesting parties. The NEBE should also review some Election Day procedures, notably the design of forms and the training provided to polling station staff and constituency electoral officers to improve the consolidation process.


Daniel Berhane