Ethiopian ruling party wins all parliamentary seats

Karim Lebhour
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Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn attends the closing session of an African summit meeting in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on June 10, 2015

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn attends the closing session of an African summit meeting in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on June 10, 2015 (AFP Photo/Khaled Desouki)

Addis Ababa (AFP) - Ethiopia's ruling party and its allies achieved a clean sweep in last month's general election, winning all 546 parliamentary seats, the final results showed Monday.

The Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn scored a landslide victory, stripping the opposition of the one seat it had held in the outgoing chamber, said Merga Bekana, chairman of the electoral board.

African Union observers said the polls passed off without incident, but the opposition alleged the government had used authoritarian tactics to guarantee victory.

Preliminary results for the one constituency that still had to return final results -- the southwestern Bonga district where elections were delayed -- showed the EPRDF also winning that seat.

"The performance of the ruling party is good but the competition was strong," Merga told reporters at the release of final results.

"The general elections were characterised by high voter turnout and orderly conduct of the elections proceedings. The elections were culminated in free, fair, peaceful, credible and democratic manner."

The EPRDF, in power in Africa's second-most populous nation for over two decades, along with its allies also won a near clean sweep in regional state councils, winning all but 21 of the 1,987 seats.

Government spokesman Shimeles Kemal said the party's success was the result of Ethiopia's economic advances.

"Voters have credited the ruling party for the economic progress it introduced in the country," he said, speaking before the final results were announced.

"They want the continuation of this policy. In view of the weak, fragmented opposition and the lack of viable alternative, it was very likely that the ruling party would win in a landslide."

Opposition leader Yilkal Getnet, president of the Semayawi or Blue Party, criticised the results.

"The political space in Ethiopia is totally closed," he told AFP. "The practical lesson for Ethiopians and for the international community is that the EPRDF has no interest in creating a multiparty system in Ethiopia. This policy of dictatorship have been uncovered."

Critics also dismissed the results.

"This result was completely expected, there is no multiparty system in Ethiopia. It's just fake," said Taye Negussie, a sociology professor at Addis Ababa University.

Ahead of the results, the Addis Standard, a rare independent voice in the Ethiopian press, commented on the "tragic demise of the multiparty system."

- Opposition lose all seats -

The EPRDF took back the only seat that was held by the opposition, securing all 23 seats in the capital Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia, whose 1984 famine triggered a major global fundraising effort, has experienced near-double-digit economic growth and huge infrastructure investment -- making the country one of Africa's top-performing economies and a magnet for foreign investment.

It also remains a favourite of key international donors, despite concerns over human rights, as a bastion of stability in an otherwise troubled region.

Ethiopia's former Marxist rebel-turned-leader Meles Zenawi, who died in 2012, was succeeded by Prime Minister Hailemariam, who has said he is committed to opening up the country's political system to allow more space for opposition parties.

But rights groups routinely accuse Ethiopia of clamping down on opposition supporters and journalists, and of using anti-terrorism laws to silence dissent and jail critics.

Activists have said the polls were not free or fair due to a lack of freedom of speech.

The United States, which enjoys close security cooperation with Ethiopia, also said it remained "deeply concerned by continued restrictions on civil society, media, opposition parties, and independent voices and views."

US President Barack Obama will in late July become the first sitting American leader to visit Ethiopia.

The European Union has also said that true democracy had yet to take root in Ethiopia.

The African Union deployed 59 observers for the polls, but European Union and Carter Center observers, who were present for the 2010 vote, were not invited.