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Saturday, May 21, 2005

What Next After Ethiopian Opposition Takes Over Addis Ababa?

The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) has released provisional results of parliamentary elections held last Sunday, confirming the victory of the opposition in the capital Addis Ababa.

Candidates of the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) swept all nine constituencies under the city administration to replace the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) that had enjoyed powers of patronage over the city for the last 14 years.

However, the deputy head of the NEBE secretariat, Tesfaye mengesha, said the results could be subject to change before formal approval by the Board on 8 June 2005.

He said the Board released the results as published by constituency electoral offices.

Though observers described last week's election as Ethiopia's freest ever, it was also the toughest for the ruling EPRDF, which faced stiff competition with the opposition, particularly in urban areas.

Opposition parties fielded more candidates than in the previous multiparty polls of 1995 and 2000 for regional councils and the House of People's Representatives (national parliament).

But as Ethiopia inches its way to a modern democracy, after centuries of monarchical rule and two decades of a Marxist regime, its inhabitants have a blurred vision of the political and economic landscape ahead.

In an interview with a local weekly, The Sub-Saharan Informer, CUD chairman Hailu Shawel, who is a professional engineer, has promised to build a rail network to link the hilly capital and its environs.

Overall, under Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia has opened up the political space and registered commendable progress in many development fronts.

More schools have been built, roads improved and access to water and electricity supply extended to many people over the past decade. Addis Ababa, too, has been given an attractive skyline and new wider streets.

Then why should the EPRDF get booted from the capital? What is quickly perceived from the public is that the opposition has turned the tables in the capital pivoting on the people's disgruntlement.

They accuse the EPRDF administration of favouring Meles' homeboys in business, allocation of building plots, access to bank credit and almost everything that means comfortable life, including executive positions.

"Meles is a very intelligent person. But I think his leadership is good for the rest of Africa, not here," a local taxi driver told PANA.

He complained about high tax rates, heavy fines for minor traffic offences, and the lowering of secondary education from 12th to 10th grade.

Ethiopia still has a long way to go to be seen as a perfect democracy.

In the run-up to the polls, the opposition complained of unfair play, particularly in rural areas, where EPRDF officials and supporters allegedly intimidated and harassed their opponents.

Already one pressure group, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), has asserted that such acts rendered the vote in Oromia region a "hollow exercise."

CUD and United Ethiopia Democratic Forces (UEDF) have complained that their observers were barred from some polling stations by government officials on election day.

In the view of CUD vice chairman, Berhanu Nega, this year's election has shown that the Ethiopian people's commitment to democracy is unparalleled.

"It was a referendum on the ruling party," he added.

Sudan Tribune

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