Ethiopian voters began voting early Sunday in a poll expected to deliver a landslide re-election for Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, whose party faces accusations of repressing political opposition.
Almost 200 protestors were killed in demonstrations that followed Zenawi’s election victory in 2005, and hundreds of political opponents were imprisoned.
Human rights groups and the opposition say that the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has since cracked down further on rival politicians.
“This election won’t be a game-changer in any way,” Medhane Tadesse, an expert on peace and security issues in Africa, told the German Press Agency dpa. “It will probably end with a landslide victory for the ruling party.” During its campaign, the EPRDF pointed to strong economic growth, the launch of energy and infrastructure projects, and deals with foreign investors from China, India and Russia.
According to UN figures, Ethiopia’s education and health coverage has more than doubled under Zenawi, who came to power in 1991 after the EPRDF overthrew brutal dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam.
However, the opposition says that the government is relying on intimidation, rather than its record, to keep power.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has also accused the government of harassment, and said that many Ethiopians in impoverished rural settings are forced to join the ruling party as a precondition for being eligible to receive foreign aid money.
However, the EPRDF denies all the allegations.
The European Union and African Union have sent observer missions, but the opposition says this will not be enough to combat widespread fraud in a nation the size of France and Spain combined.
Despite the concerns, analysts do not expect a repeat of 2005’s post—election violence.
Official results will come on June 21, but provisional results could be out as early as Monday, election officials said.
Nearly 32 million Ethiopians, 90 percent of the eligible voters, are registered to elect a national and nine regional parliaments.
Sixty-three parties and 6,939 candidates are standing for election in Africa’s second most-populous nation.