By Kirubel Tadesse, Capital
A provisional winner of the federal parliamentary elections could be declared as early as within 48 hours after polling stations are closed, a senior government official said.
A number of parties have vowed they are going to win the election.
These include the ruling EPRDF, which is running for a fourth five-year term, and a number of other parties, including Medrek, a coalition of eight opposition groups who are fielding the second most candidates for the 547 seats after the ERPDF. A record 32 million voters, two million more than initially forecasted, are expected to cast their ballots on May 23.
The original schedule set by the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) said constituency level results will be posted on May 24. Provisional announcements should come between June 2 and June 14, while NEBE is scheduled to approve and declare the winner on June 21.
However, according to Bereket Simon, Minister at the Government Communication Affairs Office, the electoral board in considering some of the dates.
“There were suggestions, including from foreigners, that the announcement of elections results, which previously took 20 to 30 days, is a bit long. Given phone services are widely available across the country now, including in 14-15,000 kebeles, as well as other communication means, provisional results on national level could be declared as early as two, three days after the polling day,” Bereket said.
The minister explained that woreda level results could be added within a day and transmitted to the zonal and later to regional level before reaching the NEBE’s headquarters in Addis Ababa in less than 72 hours.
In the disputed 2005 elections, during which post-polling violence claimed around 200 lives, political parties, including the ruling front, claimed victory before the board officially announced results.
Pundits say the parties’ premature claims incited some of the protesters who clashed with security forces. Various legislative changes have been made to the electoral law, including prohibiting anybody from speculating on the official result before NEBE announces it.
A code of conduct for political parties was also adopted from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, a Swedish-based intergovernmental organisation that supports sustainable democracy worldwide. The code was made to be part of electoral law after being approved by parliament.
The EPRDF, together with the three survivors of the former opposition coalition that performed strongly in 2005 – Ayele Chamiso’s CUD, Lidetu Ayalew’s Ethiopian Democratic Party, and the opposition’s camp veteran strongman Engineer Hailu Shawel’s All Ethiopian Unity Party – jointly endorsed the code.
A high profile ceremony, held after months of negotiations that produced the landmark code, brought the parties’ leaders, including P.M. Meles Zenawi of the ERPDF to sign the deal in October last year.
The government says the code, aided by campaign subsidies for all parties for the first time in the nation’s history and the 31 million birr airtime given to parties to campaign, have created a conducive environment for competitive elections.
Opposition groups argue the criteria devised for dividing the subsidies and the airtime in the state-owned media favours the incumbent.