Posted on November 23, 2010

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A final report issued by the European Union election observation mission (EU EOM) said Ethiopia’s May national elections fell short of international standards and lacked a level playing field for contesting parties. The Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has rejected the report and its head, Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, says the report’s claims were spring boarded by the EU’s ideology, rather than factual observations of the polls’ handling.

According to the EU report, the Ethiopian national and regional elections, which mandated the ruling EPRDF a fourth term, highly favored the ruling party. Despite a high turnout and a professional organization, the political space was too narrow and the lines between party and state were blurred.

The EU report also has doubts about the legitimacy of almost one third of votes counted. “In 27 percent of cases observed, polling station results were different to those previously recorded by observers at polling stations,” the report reads.

The EU’s final conclusions were presented three months later than originally scheduled. The mission’s chief observer Thijs Berman fully blames the delay on the Ethiopian government. He says he finished the report early in August but was denied permission to release it in Addis Ababa. The last two months he claims to have had several talks with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Deputy PM Hailemariam to reverse that decision, without any luck.

“It’s very sad that the government denies its own people our conclusions,” Berman told Capital in an interview by telephone from the EU parliament in Brussels, Belgium, where he presented the report last Monday. “It should have been in Addis Ababa so it could be presented to the Ethiopian people, but the government denied that. This is very unusual; in fact, it’s the first time for such a thing to happen to an EU observers mission.”

The Ethiopian government didn’t change its position and repeatedly explained it is not interested in the mission’s belated final report. “The mission based its report primarily on a preconceived political analysis extraneous to the conduct of the elections,” the government statement reads.

“The agreement was that the report would be factual and objective, but the preliminary report already told us that their spring board is their ideology and the report is biased in that regard,” Hailemariam said in an interview a few days before the release of the final report.

Opposition group Medrek is disappointed in the EU mission and its report. Merera Gudina (PhD), Medrek leader, told Capital that he shares most of the report’s conclusions, but criticizes the fact that it, according to him, falls short of details and tries to avoid certain aspects of the elections.

“Some of our complaints about harassment and intimidation before and on election day are not mentioned,” he said, adding that he finds it unbelievable that the EU recognizes the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) as a professional institute.
The opposition leader seems to be most upset about the timing and delay of the conclusions that were presented after the newly elected parliament (with only one seat for the opposition) was inaugurated and the government was formed. “Why not before, like everybody, we and the Ethiopian people, had expected?” he says. “It could have been a strong signal, but what is the use now?”

In his reaction, Berman says to have doubts about future EU missions to countries, like Ethiopia, that he says don’t care about its conclusions or deny them. He furthermore criticizes the attitude of the EU towards these countries: “Missions like these are very costly but have no use if the EU doesn’t act on them.” According to Berman, the mission to Ethiopia has cost the European Union 7.6 million euro.

By Kirubel Tadesse and Luc van Kemenade, Capital, 14 November 2010

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