Ethiopia's ruling EPRDF party has scored another landslide victory in national and regional elections, according to the final results. But critics and the opposition say there is no real multiparty system in the country.
It was expected, but now it's official: The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia has confirmed the overwhelming victory of the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in the May 24 parliamentary elections.
In fact, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn's party and its allies have won all 547 parliamentary seats except perhaps one. The winner of that last seat still remains to be confirmed.
"The performance of the ruling party is good, but the competition is also very strong this time," Merga Bekana, the chairman of the electoral board, said in reference to the winners as the final results were released on Monday (22.06.2015) in the capital, Addis Ababa. Voter turnout was high, according to Merga.
The EPRDF which has been in power for over two decades also won all but 21 of the 1,987 seats in regional state councils.
The electoral board has yet to announce the winner of one last seat, but preliminary results point to the EPRDF
The electoral board confirmed that 58 political parties had registered to participate in the first elections since the death of former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in 2012.
For Sisay Wobushet, what is most important is that the elections were peaceful. "I'm excited because we were able to conduct such peaceful elections," she told DW. "I'm very proud of my country and my people."
The only foreign observers sent by the African Union (AU) had reported no major incidents and concluded that the elections had been "calm, peaceful, and credible."
Opposition cries foul
But the deputy chairman of the opposition MEDREK coalition, Merara Gudina, dismissed the AU report, telling Reuters news agency that some of his group's observers had been arrested ahead of the vote. He also alleged that ballot boxes had been stolen in his constituency, describing the incident outside the western town of Ambo as "organized robbery."
The opposition's rising star, the recently founded Semayawi or Blue party, said that more than 50 of its members were arrested in the run-up to the elections. Yonatan Tesfaye, the Blue party's spokesman, said their observers were denied access to voting stations. In some areas, they had even been kept under house arrest, Tesfaye told DW. The Blue party also said names of its candidates had been removed from the ballot papers, whereupon the electoral board accused the Blue party of having failed to observe electoral legislation.
"The practical lesson for Ethiopians and for the international community is that the EPRDF has no interest in creating a multiparty system in Ethiopia," the president of the Blue party, Yilkal Getnet, told the AFP news agency.
Despite the profusion of parties taking part in the election, the center-left MEDREK coalition and the Blue party were considered to be the only genuine, albeit minor competition for the EPRDF.
The ruling party insists the election result is due to its economic record. "Voters have credited the ruling party for the economic progress it introduced in the country," government spokesman Shimeles Kemal told APF. Under EPRDF rule Ethiopia has indeed become one of Africa's highest performing economies, attracting considerable foreign investment. The World Bank expects growth of 10.5 percent in the year starting in July.
Mere semblance of a multiparty system
But critics accuse the government of using repressive tactics to prevent the emergence of a viable political opposition. They say the EPRDF-led government has been harassing opposition activists and muzzling the media in a long campaign to quash dissent. Human rights groups point to a 2009 anti-terrorism law, which they say has become a tool to silence critical voices, citing the example of the "Zone 9" bloggers, who have been detained under that law since 2014.
The EPRDF also won the 2010 general elections in a landslide. The opposition at the time complained about voter intimidation and a lack of media coverage, a claim partially supported by international observers.
But the 2010 elections were largely peaceful, unlike those in 2005, when accusations of irregularities led to protests and violence that left 200 people dead. The opposition had made significant gains and won 172 parliamentary seats in that vote, but only one seat in 2010. The opposition did not take up their seats after the 2005 election, in protest of a poll they said was rigged.
Coletta Wanjohi contributed to this article.