Douglas Mpuga, VOA 26 May 2010
A former top U.S. official on Africa says Ethiopian opposition parties failed to get equal access to the media in the run-up to Sunday’s parliamentary elections.
Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Herman Cohen (1989-93) said, “This time opposition media and opposition groups were not given fair time on the media and opposition media tends to be suppressed and in that sense I don’t think it was a fair election.”
He added, “In contrast to the 2005 election, this seems to be rather peaceful and administratively ok, so I think it is an improvement,” said Cohen, a specialist in African and European affairs.
He expressed doubt opposition complaints and their call for a new vote would amount to anything, but added “If the opposition rejects [the election] then it makes it difficult to consider the election legitimate.”
Cohen said despite the flaws it was important for the opposition to have taken part. “I always tell the opposition that if they do not participate then there is no reason for the government to commit fraud, so they should always participate and if there is fraud everyone will know.”
He said unlike the 2005 election, it is unlikely there will be violence.
“In 2005, they (government) reacted to violence with lethal force and I think the opposition groups have a vivid memory of the results,” he said.
Also, the current top U.S. diplomat for Africa, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, said Tuesday the Ethiopian government took “clear and decisive steps” that ensured it would win the election.
Ethiopia’s ruling party claimed a landslide victory this week in the first vote since a brutal crackdown in 2005, but some observers and human rights groups say the election was heavily tilted in favour of the government. After the election results were announced on Tuesday, thousands of government supporters rallied in the streets of Addis Ababa, celebrating the victory.
Ethiopia’s opposition leaders are sceptical of the official results. One of the top opposition leaders, Hailu Shawel, said the election was “ridiculous” because it was completely controlled by the ruling party. He told reporters Wednesday intimidation and fraud influenced Sunday’s elections.