By William Davison, Bloomberg – Ethiopia’s electoral playing field was “heavily” balanced in favor of the ruling party in a May vote in which Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and allied parties won all but two of the 547 seats in parliament, the European Union said.
Local administrations that are almost entirely controlled by the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front should in future have a reduced role in elections to make the process fairer, the EU said in its final report on the vote published on its website today. The EPRDF controls more than 99 percent of local administrations in the country.
Ethiopia’s government rejected the criticism of a process it has described as free and fair.
“The report casts doubt not on the standards of the election, but on the integrity of the observers,” government spokesman Shimeles Kemal said in a mobile-phone interview today.
The report was presented in Brussels, the Belgian capital, after observers failed to get permission to deliver the report in Addis Ababa, said Thijs Berman, a Dutch member of the European Parliament who led a team to the Horn of Africa country in May.
Shimeles said he had “no idea” why the report wasn’t presented in Ethiopia.
The EPRDF used a combination of harassment and arrests and withholding food aid and jobs to thwart the opposition Medrek alliance ahead of the election, Human Rights Watch, a New York- based advocacy group, said in a March 24 report entitled “One Hundred Ways of Putting Pressure.”
The EU mission recommended that if the National Electoral Board relied less on local administrations it could “could prevent and curtail suspicions of governmental control of the electoral process.” The ruling party alliance won all but four of the 1,904 seats for the regional state councils in this year’s elections.
Changes to the legal framework and the fragmentation, imprisonment and exile of opposition figures following disputed elections in 2005 have made it difficult for opponents of the ruling party to operate in Ethiopia, the EU said.
The mission said the EPRDF used state resources to fund its campaign and reporting by state media ahead of the vote was biased in favor the ruling party. Freedom of assembly was sometimes not respected for opposition parties, and the volume of complaints of intimidation against the ruling party, local administrations and police was a “matter of concern,” it said.
Meles is a former Marxist guerrilla leader who has led sub- Saharan Africa’s second-most populous nation and top coffee producer since 1991. Under his rule, Ethiopia has pursued an economic model that mixes a large state role with foreign investment in roads, agriculture and power. Last year, almost a sixth of the population relied on food aid.
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