Barry Malone, Reuters
Ethiopia’s election board confirmed Monday Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s landslide victory in a May 23 election disputed by opposition parties and criticized by the European Union and the United States.
The official figures match the provisional results, giving the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and allies 545 seats in the 547-member parliament.
“The board has approved the result unanimously,” Merga Bekana, chairman of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE), told a news conference. “The election was peaceful, credible, fair, free and democratic.”
Ethiopia’s Supreme Court and the NEBE have rejected calls from opposition parties to rerun the elections.
The country’s biggest opposition group, the eight-party Medrek, won a single seat and an independent candidate won another. Medrek and the smaller All Ethiopia Unity Party (AEUP) alleged widespread pre-poll intimidation and some vote rigging.
After Ethiopia’s last elections in 2005, the opposition coalition said the result was fixed and called for street protests. Riots tore through the capital and security forces killed 193 protesters. Seven policemen also died.
The top opposition leaders were jailed, accused of sparking the trouble.
Medrek has not ruled out street protests this time but says it will try one last court challenge on the grounds the NEBE broke the law by not properly investigating an 87-page book of evidence Medrek submitted to back up its complaints.
Western diplomats are watching closely to see how the opposition will react after all of its senior leaders lost their seats in the overwhelming victory for Meles, who is looking to foreign investors to help accelerate development.
Ethiopia is also the key U.S. ally in the volatile Horn of Africa region and sent troops into neighboring Somalia in 2006 to oust Islamist militants who had taken control of much of that country and threatened the West.
OPPOSITION MULL OPTIONS
The EPRDF crushed Medrek in Oromia, the country’s most populous region and traditionally a stronghold for opposition parties, winning all 160 seats. Medrek’s only seat was won in the capital Addis Ababa.
A European Union observer mission said the poll was marred by the EPRDF’s use of state resources for campaigning, putting the opposition at a disadvantage ahead of the vote, but said this did not mean the count itself was invalid.
The United States said the election failed to meet international standards.
Meles told Reuters in an interview on polling day that, if the EPRDF won the poll, he would use his new term to step up power production and improve telecommunications in what is still one of the world’s poorest countries.
(Reporting by Barry Malone; Editing by Giles Elgood)