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2010 - Elections

Presidential and parliamentary elections were scheduled to take place in May 2010. As of December 2009, however, leading opposition politicians voiced skepticism that the Ethiopian Government would permit free and fair elections. In September 2009, the Forum for Democratic Dialogue, a coalition of major opposition parties, walked out of interparty talks after complaining that the ruling EPRDF refused to hold bilateral Forum-EPRDF talks. Opposition party leaders reported an intensification of harassment, arbitrary arrest, and intimidation of their supporters, especially in rural areas, nine months before the scheduled elections.

On the federal level, a series of reforms passed by the EPRDF-dominated parliament allowed the EPRDF to progressively narrow the freedom of opposition parties and civil society organizations to participate in the elections process. The parliament enacted a code of conduct that created a system of "joint councils" through which political parties could present all manner of complaints for peer review and arbitration. In practice only 16 of the 637 joint councils envisioned for the country were in fact formed, and only the Addis Ababa Joint Council took up cases in earnest.

In an April 2010 speech, Prime Minister Meles threatened opposition leaders with postelection criminal prosecution for unspecified violations of the electoral code of conduct; however, there were no prosecutions by year's end. At the local level, thousands of opposition activists complained of EPRDF-sponsored mistreatment, ranging from harassment in submitting candidacy forms to beatings by local militia members, and complained further that there was no non-EPRDF dominated forum to which to present those complaints. Although the law provides for partial public funding of campaigns, in practice opposition parties received very little public funding, since funding was allocated on the basis of the number of seats held by each party in the parliament. The law also permits private citizens and companies to contribute to campaigns, but recently enacted disclosure rules likely limited contributions to opposition parties. The EPRDF entered the election season with millions of dollars, whereas major opposition parties were virtually bankrupt.

The EPRDF controlled all 112 seats in the House of Federation, the upper house of parliament, whose members were appointed by regional governments and by the federal government. The primary role of the Upper House is to judge, as necessary, the constitutionality of the laws passed by the lower house and to allocate financial resources from the federal government to the regions.

In February 2010 the government pardoned 182 members of the opposition All Ethiopia Unity Party (AEUP) previously convicted of threatening the "constitutional order" during the violent aftermath of the 2005 national elections. The pardons reportedly were part of a negotiated agreement for the AEUP leadership to participate in EPRDF-led talks on the enactment of an electoral code of conduct for political parties.

While the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and of the press, the government did not respect these rights in practice. The government continued to arrest, harass, and prosecute journalists, publishers, and editors. The government continued to control all broadcast media, including the sole television station, except three private FM radio stations. Private-sector and government journalists routinely practiced self-censorship. The broadcasting law prohibits political and religious organizations or foreigners from owning broadcast stations.

Government-controlled media mostly reflected the views of the government and the ruling EPRDF coalition. However, live radio and television broadcasts occasionally included televised parliamentary debates and broadcast the views of opposition parliamentarians, as did government newspapers. During the election campaign, state media broadcast debates between the parties; because broadcast time was allocated on the basis of parliamentary seats, spokesmen for the ruling party received the most time.

The government owned the only newspaper printing press and used its monopoly position, inter alia, to regularly increase costs to publishers. Reports indicated that this practice influenced the circulation numbers of the private newspapers, forcing them to adjust their printing runs according to what they could afford.

Generally, the media ensured a neutral coverage of the main political campaign events. The state-owned media gave the ruling party more than 50% of its total coverage on news programmes. A generous amount of free airtime was distributed proportionately to the different parties. Overall, the media were cautious in their reporting.

In simultaneous national and regional parliamentary elections in May 2010, the ruling EPRDF won more than 99% of all legislative seats in the country. In a tally of the popular vote, 91.95% voted for EPRDF and affiliate parties, while only 8.05% voted for the opposition countrywide. Election Day was peaceful as 89% of registered voters cast ballots, but independent observation of the vote was severely limited. Only European Union and African Union observers were permitted, and they were restricted to the capital and barred from proximity to polling places. Although those few independent observers allowed access to the process did not question the EPRDF victory, there was ample evidence that unsavory government tactics--including intimidation of opposition candidates and supporters--influenced the extent of the victory.

The government policy of ethnic federalism led to the creation of individual constituencies to provide for representation of all major ethnic groups in the House of People's Representatives. There were more than 80 ethnic groups, and small groups lacked representation in the legislature. There were 24 nationality groups in six regional states (Tigray, Amhara, Beneshangul, SNNPR, Gambella, and Harar) that did not have a sufficient population to qualify for constituency seats based on the 2007 census result; however, in the May elections, individuals from these nationality groups competed for 24 special seats in the House of People's Representatives. Additionally these 24 nationality groups have one seat each in the unelected, largely ceremonial House of Federation.

Overall, the 2010 elections were not up to international standards because the environment conducive to free and fair elections was not in place. The EPRDF used the advantages of incumbency to restrict political space for opposition candidates and activists. At the local level, thousands of opposition activists complained of EPRDF-sponsored mistreatment ranging from harassment in submitting candidacy forms to beatings by local militia members, and complained further that there was no non-EPRDF dominated forum to which to present those complaints.

Human Rights Watch, opposition parties, and elements of the media alleged a general politicization of foreign donor assistance. These reports suggested that, in the period prior to the May elections, the EPRDF and its regional affiliated parties used humanitarian assistance as incentives to secure support for the ruling coalition. The donor community, collectively known as the Development Assistance Group, conducted an assessment of the four largest donor-supported development programs. The assessment evaluated the systems and safeguards that various programs had in place to prevent, detect, and address political and financial distortion. The final report, issued in July, concluded that all four programs had accountability systems in place that provided checks on distortion in the distribution of assistance. In addition the two programs related to the provision of food aid were deemed to have the strongest safeguards and thus were the least likely to have been subject to distortion for political purposes.

In August 2010 several opposition party leaders reported an intensification in the arrest and detention of opposition supporters, especially in Oromia, Amhara, and Tigray. Approximately 1,200 opposition Oromo Federalists' Congress (OFC) Party supporters, for example, were reportedly arrested and detained in association with the May elections. (The OFC was formed by the merger of the OPC and the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM)). Many were released during the year after serving four- to five-month sentences, but many remained in jail. In October 2010 the president of the UDJ, Birtukan Mideksa, whose pardon was revoked and life sentence reinstated in 2008, was released. Prior to her release she was held in solitary confinement until June, despite a court ruling that indicated it was a violation of her constitutional rights.

All but three electronic communications facilities are state owned. Opposition political party leaders reported suspicions of telephone tapping and other electronic eavesdropping. In May 2009 a former employee of Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation (ETC), the state-run monopoly telecommunications and Internet provider reported from self-imposed exile that the government had ordered ETC employees to unlawfully record citizens' private telephone conversations. The government used a widespread system of paid informants to report on the activities of particular individuals.




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