Ethiopia monitors to probe fraud claims in ‘calm poll’

Ethiopians election officials empty the ballot box
Ethiopians election officials empty the ballot box before the counting of votes Sunday May 23, 2010 at a poling station in Addis Ababa, Ethopia Sunday May 23, 2010. Ethiopia's opposition said they may contest the results of Sunday's national election in court after reports of intimidation and vote-rigging, hoping to avoid the violent street clashes that marred the last poll and left nearly 200 dead. The election in Africa's third most populous nation is being closely watched by international observers, and by critics who say the U.S.-allied ruling party has harassed voters and challengers. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Monday, 24 May 2010  BBC

European Union election observers in Ethiopia are investigating complaints of irregularities in Sunday’s vote, but say it was largely peaceful and calm.

The opposition has complained of electoral malpractice, but the EU said the turnout had been “encouraging”.

The BBC’s Will Ross in Addis Ababa says the ruling party of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is expected to win.

The parliamentary poll is seen as a test for the country after the 2005 disputed election led to violence.

‘Massive’

“I do not know what the final turnout will be but it was very high. I think this in itself is encouraging,” the chief EU observer Thijs Berman said

“The Ethiopian citizens have expressed their vote in a democratic, calm and peaceful way and massively,” he said.

Mr Berman said technical errors had been reported and complaints received from political parties and candidates.

“We do not know at this stage yet what the extent of these irregularities can be, and how serious they are. We are busy evaluating this,” he said.

Our correspondent says that after almost two decades in office, Mr Meles and his Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) are confident of victory.

The opposition may be citing irregularities but it knows it had little chance against the might of the ruling party machine, he says.

Five years ago, Mr Meles had a shock as an opposition coalition came close to winning the election.

Protests against the result led to almost 200 opposition supporters being shot dead in the streets and opposition leaders were detained.

This time, there will be much debate as to whether the ruling party’s certain victory is down to impressive efforts at developing the country or state harassment of the opposition, our reporter says.

There were thousands of local observers spread out across the country although some in the opposition do not see them as neutral.

The Ethiopian government banned foreign embassy staff from monitoring the poll. It did not see them as experts on elections and said it did not want diplomatic relations blurred.

The European Union had 170 observers on the ground.

Some 32 million people were registered to elect the 547 members of the lower House of Representatives, along with regional councillors who in turn choose the upper house of parliament.

Ethiopia’s electoral commission has until 21 June to declare the results.