Friday, May 27, 2005

Allegations of Vote Rigging Fly in Ethiopia

Ethiopia's main opposition coalition said on Friday it will not accept election results for 84 seats that may hold the balance of power in the 547-strong Parliament, increasing already high tensions as the nation awaits official results.

Both opposition and ruling parties are claiming victory based on their own projections and trading charges of rigging. By Friday, the National Electoral Board had published results for 27 seats -- 22 of which went to the opposition, mostly in the capital, where the opposition is expected to win.

Many more provisional results from Sunday's voting -- seen as the most open and fair in Ethiopian history -- are expected on Saturday, with final, ratified results on June 8.

The National Electoral Board is investigating charges of major vote fraud, its chief, Kemal Bedri, said, asking political parties to provide evidence backing their claims. He added a revote will take place on Sunday in six out of Ethiopia's 31 000 polling stations, saying serious irregularities -- including a halt to voting -- were recorded at just those six stations.

The main opposition, though, wants a revote and a recount of ballots for 84 seats, claiming ballot boxes were stolen, its supporters were prevented from voting and counting was stopped as it became clear that its candidates were ahead.

The Coalition for Unity and Democracy is prepared to use all peaceful and legal means to challenge the results of the 84 disputed seats, said Berhanu Nega, vice-chairperson of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy.

'Grave consequences'
Beyene Petros, vice-chairperson of the opposition United Ethiopian Democratic Forces, warned of "grave consequences" if the results do not reflect the voters' will.

"The term 'grave consequences' is implying the kind of downfall previous Ethiopian governments have been facing by not properly assessing the developments of the population," Beyene said.

"A peaceful revolution is in the making and I think all of us can read this from a determined population on the streets of Addis Ababa that was standing for more than 10 hours to vote," Beyene said.

The opposition charges triggered conflicting accusations from the ruling Ethiopia People's Revolutionary Front, which ended an oppressive dictatorship in 1991.


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