Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, May 24 – Ethiopia was Sunday holding its first general elections since the death of strongman Meles Zenawi in 2012, with his successor Hailemariam Desalegn all but certain to stay in power.
Over 36.8 million Ethiopians registered for Sunday’s polls, but analysts say the election in Africa’s second-most populous nation falls far short of open competition.
Western observers were not invited and the opposition alleges the government has used authoritarian tactics to ensure victory.
One of the main opposition candidates, Yilekal Getinet, accused the government of “closing” political space.
Voters stood peacefully in lines in the capital Addis Ababa, where an AFP journalist said stations were calm, without long queues but a regular flow of people passing through to cast their ballot.
Posters of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) dominate the capital.
“I except the EPRDF to win – but maybe the opposition will get more seats so there will be more discussion about what the government is doing,” said Wassen, who was waiting to vote. “It is better for the country — now there is only one opposition MP and no discussion.”
Polls opened at 6:00 am (0300 GMT) on Sunday, and will close at 6:00 pm (1500 GMT), with initial results expected within two to five days, and final official tallies on June 22.
Three observers from different parties were seen in stations in the capital’s Kazanches and Cherkos districts.
The ruling EPRDF has been in power for over two decades and is confident of a win, but insists the result will be based on its economic record alone. Ethiopia is now one of Africa’s top performing economies and a magnet for foreign investment.
Rights groups — which routinely accuse Ethiopia of clamping down on opposition supporters and journalists, and of using anti-terrorism laws to silence dissent and jail critics — have said polls would not be free or fair due to a lack of freedom of speech.
– ‘Not much of a democratic exercise’ –
Addis Ababa dismisses such criticism, with government spokesman Redwan Hussein telling AFP that voters would choose their representatives based on performance.
“If they want to give us another chance they will vote for us,” he said. “If they have a grudge, they will not.”
Abebe Simegni, a lawyer who just voted, said there “had been a lot of information, with debates on the radio, different parties were arguing — we know thoroughly which party is for sustainable development and which are not.”