By Samson Haileyesus, Associated Press Writer
An Ethiopian opposition leader called Wednesday for a rerun of the weekend election, charging that the vote was flawed by intimidation and irregularities, as America and the European Union expressed concern over its fairness.
Prospective parliamentarian Hailu Shawel said he believes Sunday’s vote was controlled by the ruling party and has written a letter to the electoral board asking for a rerun. Over recent days, he has claimed that opposition observers were turned away and that voters and candidates were intimidated. Other members of his party have questioned the privacy of the vote.
“The process of the elections was not democratic-building but was a regression in democracy,” Hailu said.
The latest preliminary results from the election board show a landslide victory for the party of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who has ruled since seizing power in a 1991 coup. Meles gave a victory speech before tens of thousands of people gathered in central Addis Ababa on Tuesday.
Ethiopian election officials said they witnessed no irregularities, and government spokesman Bereket Simon said the election was free and fair.
But EU observers said Tuesday they found that the poll was marred by an uneven playing field that favored the ruling party. Since the last violent elections in 2005, some critics say the government has systematically stifled the competition.
U.S. National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said late Tuesday that U.S. Embassy officials were denied accreditation and the opportunity to travel outside of the capital to observe the voting.
“The limitation of independent observation and the harassment of independent media representatives are deeply troubling,” Hammer said in a statement.
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said voters were told they could lose food assistance, public-sector jobs, loans and educational opportunities if they voted against the ruling party.
Ethiopia is frequently criticized for its human rights record, including by the U.S. State Department, which in a March report cited reports of “unlawful killings, torture, beating, abuse and mistreatment of detainees and opposition supporters by security forces, often acting with evident impunity.” Still, the U.S. considers Ethiopia an ally and provides foreign aid. Both countries want to curb Islamist extremism in Somalia, Ethiopia’s unstable neighbor to the east.