African Union observers said on Tuesday that Ethiopia’s parliamentary election held on Sunday was credible except for a few irregularities, but the opposition dismissed the vote as marred by violations including ballot box theft. Provisional results in Africa’ second most populous nation are due later this week and few expect anything but a landslide for the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition, in power since ousting dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who took over after EPRDF’s long-serving leader Meles Zenawi died in 2012, has pushed on with EPRDF’s highly-centralised statist economic model credited with turning around the fortunes of a country once ravaged by war and famine.
Ethiopians are voting in national and regional elections – the country’s first since the 2012 death of its longtime leader – with the ruling party expected to maintain its grip on power. More than 38 million voters are eligible to cast ballots on Sunday. Some opposition groups had threatened to boycott the vote, saying their members were being harassed and detained – charges the government denies. The prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn – a former university professor – has been leading the country since the death of strongman Meles Zenawi, who built the ruling coalition into a powerful political organisation, while opposition groups complain of persecution.
Since the overthrow of the communist regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam in May 1991, Ethiopia has organised regular elections in which an increasing number of international actors, especially election observers, have been involved. During this period, one political organization, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), has been dominant. When in control, the prime minister, Meles Zenawi, served continuously as head of government until his death in August 2012. He was succeeded by Hailemariam Desalegn. The tensions and contradictions between external democracy-promoters and the practices and ideals of the Ethiopian leadership were brought into sharp focus after the 2005 and 2010 elections. Both elections led to a diplomatic crisis, especially between the regime and EU observers. However, this conflict did not substantially affect the levels of external aid or the continued dominance of the EPRDF.