Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Opposition Groups Claim Lead in Ethiopian Election

Ethiopia's two main opposition groups contesting elections claimed yesterday to have won most of the parliamentary seats counted so far, saying current trends suggested they would win a historic victory.

The ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front has already claimed it has won more than 300 of the assembly's 547 seats following Sunday's ballot.

Analysts and observers said there was a dramatic, unexpected level of support for the opposition but said it was still too early to call the vote.

No official results have been released.

Even if the opposition does not win a majority, but still garners enough seats to significantly increase its parliamentary representation, it would herald a monumental shift in Ethiopia's political landscape.

Yesterday, the two main opposition groups, which have agreed to form a government together if necessary, said they had won a combined total of 203 of the 250 to 260 seats where votes had been counted so far.

Berhanu Nega, vice-chairman of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, the main opposition group, said the results of about 70 other seats where known, but the opposition had not contested those constituencies.

The opposition gains appear mostly to centre on urban areas, with the CUD believed to have won at least 21 of the 23 seats in Addis Ababa.

After elections in 2000, the opposition, which was then regarded as divided and inconsequential, had fewer than 20 seats.

The elections were the most open in the long, often volatile, history of Ethiopia and the ruling party has not had to contend with serious political opposition since taking power in 1991.

Democracy is still in its infancy in the Horn of Africa nation of 70m people, which has been blighted by decades of poverty and authoritarian rule.

Provisional results are expected on Saturday and official results are not due until June 8.

Financial Times

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