Ethiopia's ruling EPRDF party, led by PM Meles Zenawi (pictured), is set for a convincing victory following largely peaceful national elections over the weekend, according to preliminary results released on Monday.
REUTERS - Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's ruling party is set for a landslide victory in a national election fought amid opposition accusations the government had stifled dissent.
Provisional results released by Ethiopia's electoral board showed on Monday that the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and allies won an overwhelming number of votes in nine out of 11 regions and cities to declare so far.
"Definitely, at this point the EPRDF has won, definitely," Merga Bekana, chairman of the Ethiopian National Electoral Board (NEBE), told reporters.
Some analysts said a convincing win would give the former rebel leader the chance to accelerate development in Washington's main regional ally and improve its democratic record before Meles quits as planned in 2015.
"It is essential that both supporters and opponents of the EPRDF take advantage of this situation in a constructive way to ensure that democracy makes serious progress in Ethiopia," said David Shinn, a former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia.
"If that happens, it could be the EPRDF's most important legacy. If it fails, it may relegate the EPRDF to the dustbin of history," he told Reuters.
But the extent of the provisional victory left some Ethiopians worried about how the opposition might react.
Some opposition leaders began complaining the election was flawed before polling booths closed, saying the EPRDF had routinely intimated and harassed critics in the days and months ahead of the election.
A 2005 poll descended into riots that killed 193 protesters and seven policemen when a different opposition coalition said it was cheated of victory after a campaign which captured the imagination of many Ethiopians.
Analysts said if the poll were given a clean bill of health by European Union observers on Tuesday morning there would be little momentum for critics to mount a convincing challenge.
If the EU said the poll was flawed, however, it might embolden the opposition to challenge the result and take to the streets in protest as they did in 2005.
The government has warned that any politicians who attempt to spark post-election violence will be held responsible. Top opposition leaders were jailed en masse after the 2005 chaos.
The EPRDF crushed an eight-party opposition coalition known as Medrek in Oromia, the country's most populous region and traditionally a stronghold for opponents. The electoral board said the EPRDF had 3,927,673 votes and Medrek just 117,790.
Medrek did better in the capital Addis Ababa in terms of votes, but the electoral board said it was likely to win only one seat out of 21, with two more left to declare. In 2005, the opposition swept the board in Addis and other cities.
The board said the results were from about 75 percent of the country's 43,500 polling stations, although the number of votes declared appeared somewhat low given 32 million people had registered to vote and the turnout was said to be high.
Meles told Reuters in an interview on Sunday his party would win as it had presided over seven years of double-digit growth and had begun to reform the political and judicial landscape.
While nearly 10 percent of the population relied on emergency food aid last year, the government has invested heavily in infrastructure and Meles now wants to step up power production, improve telecommunications and develop industry.
European Union election observers said on Sunday the poll was peaceful and calm, albeit with some claims of irregularities that needed to be checked.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Monday that international observers should condemn voter intimidation, drawing a sharp response from the government.
"Human Rights Watch and other so-called human rights organisations are instruments by which powerful ideologies are imposed on independent states who resist them," government spokesman Shimeles Kemal told Reuters.
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