No level playing field for opposition, says EU chief observer

By Eskinder Nega / May 25, 2010
ADDIS ABABA - European Union (EU) chief observer of the Ethiopian elections, Thijs Berman, said on Tuesday this year’s election fell “short of international standards in some respects.” While he praised the electoral board’s handling of the technical side of the election, he repeatedly stressed that the absence of a level playing field “in favor of the EPRDF” has affected both the process and outcome of the election.

Pressed by journalists to say whether the election was free and fair, Berman deferred, insisting that it is too early to pass judgment. “I understand your hunger,” said Berman to Bloomberg’s Jason Maclure, who asked him if the election was credible. “But I can not give you a definite answer before doing a nationwide analysis.”

Berman was repeatedly provoked by Mimi Sebehatu, a former VOA journalist and now an EPRDF supporter with the intensity of a new convert, and government journalists, who questioned the independence and integrity of EU observers. “Is the observers’ mission independent from external pressure and influence?” inquired government journalists repeatedly. “I am paid by the CIA,” responded a provoked Berman sarcastically. “And I also resent the question,” he added visibly angered. He also spoke of narrowing of the political space, and laws that were enacted in the run-up to the elections that are in contravention to international laws signed by Ethiopia.

Berman said while EPRDF’s observers were present at all the polling stations that they visited on Sunday, Medrek’s were present in about half and AEUP’s only in about 20 percent. “We are not here to please anyone. We are not here to take the government’s pretty picture. We are not here to take the opposition’s pretty picture. We are here to take an accurate picture,” said Berman.

The government used Human Rights Watch as a pretext to stage massive rallies around the country today to buttress its widely mocked margin of victory in Sunday’s nationwide election. I attended the rally in Addis as a translator to foreign journalists, who estimated the size in the tens of thousands. The rally was planned well before HRW issued a statement on Monday, according to sources, signaling that the EPRDF knew about its disquieting margin of victory before votes were cast on Sunday. Kebeles in Addis Ababa marshalled residents to Meskel Square as early as 6:00AM in the morning, where HRW, and, quite bafflingly, EPRDF's western partners were condemned. “The people have spoken,” said Meles to the crowd. “Everyone should respect the outcome. We urge that we should not be provoked anymore.”

In Addis Ababa, where the opposition had won all the seats in 2005, the EPRDF claimed victory in all but one wereda, where Medrek allegedly won its only seat with less than 100 votes more than the EPRDF. Preliminary results released by the Electoral Board, whose independence has been seriously undermined ever since it accredited a coalition of EPRDF affiliated civil organizations to observe the election by insisting on their non partisanship, show the EPRDF garnering 403,621 votes in Addis, as opposed to 264,607 for Medrek; 26,535 for EDP; and 13,618 for Medrek. In Oromia, where Dr Merera’s party,the ONC,a member of Medrek, the largest opposition, is quite popular, the EPRDF claimed 3,927,673 votes, compared to Medrek’s 117,719; 119,613 for Lidetu’s EDP. In Tigray, where Gebru’s Arena Tigray and UDJ’s Seys Abarha, mounted an impressive campaign against the EPRDF, the ruling party allegedly registered 196,011 ballots; but only 6341 for Medrek, 9041 for EDP; and 268 for AEUP.

Results publicized by the electoral board show that all leaders of the opposition have lost their bid for a seat in parliament; this list includes Professor Beyene, Dr Merera, Dr Negaso, Seye, Gebru, and Engineeer Gizachew. The results are of course being contested by the opposition, who will now head to the electoral board and foreign observers with their complaints.Failing resolution there, they will then head to the courts as a measure of last resort(Though no one expects Ethiopia's judges to stand up for the truth.)

Serious reports of irregularities have emerged from West Shoa yesterday after revelation that Medrek representatives left polling stations on Sunday night without signing on documents that certify the result of the election.Irregularities have also been reported in other areas of the country by opposition groups.

Here are some sample results posted around Addis:

Wereda 18--Bole--  (One Station)
EPRDF: 205
EDP: 28
Wereda 2 --Piassa-- (One Station)
EPRDF: 375
EDP: 17
Wereda 1 ---HabteGiorgis Deldey-- 18 (One Station)
EPRDF: 356
Wereda 5--Merkato-- (One Station)
EPRDF: 255