By Paul Ndiho
May 19, 2010
Preparations for Ethiopia’s elections scheduled for Sunday May 23 have been dominated by accusations of intimidation and disruption by both the government and the opposition. The government says it’s looking forward to a democratic process, but opposition parties say chances of free and fair polls are very slim.
Ethiopians go to the polls this weekend for the first time since a government victory in 2005 was disputed by the opposition. More than 200 street protesters were killed by security forces and all the main opposition leaders imprisoned and charged with terrorism. Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs while testifying to the U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa said the Obama administration is watching very closely the upcoming elections in Ethiopia and called on the government to allow everyone to vote freely and fairly on Election Day and that it’s incumbent upon the government to do everything it possibly can ensure that the playing field is leveled.
“We are encouraging the government of Ethiopia, as well as the opposition parties to act responsively during the election campaign and the election itself. We do not want to see a repetition of the violence that followed the flood elections of 2005 in which the opposition felt that it had not been treated fairly, protested after the election and a number of opposition leaders were killed in the streets of Addis Ababa.”
Concerned Ethiopians are afraid to voice their doubts, the general feeling in the country is that polls will not be free or fair and that violence may erupt again. Here in the Washington D.C metro area some Ethiopians are worried that a repeat of the chaos seen in 2005 might carry the day. Alemayenu Abebe a Washington DC resident says the election campaigns have been dominated by intimidation and harassment from the government police are other security agencies.
There is no independent election workers the ruling party will use all necessary means to stop the opposition parties. You know they can put you in jail they don’t have equal landscape they don’t have a right to go to the demonstration in the capital city.”
However, Another D.C resident is hoping that this election will be free and fair to all Ethiopian people.
“I’ve lived here in the United States of America for a long time because I enjoy the freedom and i hope that our people will get that freedom one day. And I hope this government in power right now will treat the opposition party fairly stop intimidation so that we will have some members go to the parliament and fight further for the people of Ethiopia.”
The opposition says their candidates and voters are harassed and intimidated. The government, for its part, says the opposition plans to incite street violence and discredit the poll because it has no chance of winning.
One of the leading opposition leaders Merera Gudina while campaigning in and around his home area of Ambo, in the Oromia region, approximately 125 kilometres south of the capital Addis Ababa. The region is home to Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group which makes up 27 million of the country’s 80 million population also accused the government for intimidating in his people.
“Well, the police, the security, there’s the local administrators, they’re all going around telling people that the forum (Medrek) and the Oromo People’s Congress is not peaceful and all kinds of things. They are intimidating people.”
New-York based Human Rights Watch said the government has arrested and imprisoned opposition politicians for varying terms since the 2005 disputed polls. However, The National Election Board says measures are in place to make sure all parties follow strict guidelines for the elections.
“Almost all political parties, more than 65 political parties have agreed on a code of conduct so as to make the upcoming election free, fair, democratic, peaceful and credible. We have also prepared a media election reporting directives.”
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who is running for re-election was hailed by the west as one of a new generation of democratic African leaders in the 1990s but human rights groups have increasingly criticized him for cracking down on opposition and the independent media in sub-Saharan Africa’s second most populous nation. In 2005 his security forces opened live fire at un-armed civilians and killed more than 200 people.