BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 May 2005, 15:22 GMT 16:22 UK
Election fever hits Ethiopian cities
By Amber Henshaw
BBC News, Addis Ababa

Car horns blared, crowds cheered and small children waved flags and home-made banners.

Opposition supporter
The opposition say that after 10 years, it is time for a change
Passers-by stopped in the street to give each other the V-for-victory sign which has come to symbolise one of Ethiopia's main opposition parties, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD).

Election fever hit Ethiopia last weekend as hundreds of thousands took to the streets ahead of the country's third multi-party general elections on Sunday.

But it is quite a different picture in some of the more rural areas, where finding enough food to eat is most people's priority.

Supporters of the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) packed into Meskel Square in the heart of the capital, Addis Ababa, on Saturday.

On Sunday it was the opposition's turn.

Malnourished

Huge groups ran through the streets shouting and singing, waving flags and banners.

One opposition supporter said: "In our country there are many problems - that's why so many people are taking part in this rally.

Ethiopians share their views on the elections

"It is time to take down this government. We have lived with this government for 14 years and it does not represent the country, it does not represent the people."

At Dodata feeding centre near the city of Harar, 400km east of the capital, the election was the last thing on anyone's mind.

An appeal by the UN children's agency this week said that 163,000 children across the country were severely malnourished and could die within days without immediate assistance.

All their mothers can think about is keeping those children alive.

One woman told me she didn't even know there was an election.

Nomads

In the south-eastern Somali Region - the second biggest in the country with a population of about 3.5 million - the election is just a distant reality.

Democracy is a process and I am highly encouraged by the improvements
State Information Minister Netsannet Asfaw

That is because the election in the Somali region won't not be carried out until August.

Tesfaye Mengesha, acting head of the National Electoral Board, explained that it was because the population is made up of nomadic pastoralists.

"We use in that region a mobile voters registration system. To apply that system we have to use much of our manpower and our vehicles. So after we finished the election execution in other regions we will turn our attention to the Somali region."

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi stormed into Addis Ababa as a guerrilla in 1991 with his band of freedom fighters - the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front, having defeated Mengistu Haile Mariam's communist regime.

Initially there was a transitional government before the first elections were held in 1995.

A government was formed from a group of coalition parties - the EPRDF - and Mr Meles became prime minister.

War, drought

The road towards democracy has not been an easy one and there is still a long way to go.

Girl in Harar
In rural areas, food is more important than the election
There have been many obstacles along the way - a population explosion, droughts and also, perhaps most significantly, the war with Eritrea which many people believe undermined much of the progress made by the EPRDF until 1997.

State Information Minister Netsannet Asfaw said: "Democracy is a process and I am highly encouraged by the improvements.

"First and foremost people are now aware of their rights, that they have to vote. I'm highly encouraged that 25 million people are registered to vote. "

Many people are very concerned about Ethiopia's democratic claims.

Opposition parties say they have been subject to harassment, abuse and in some instances even violence in the run-up to the elections.

Beyene Petros, vice-chair of the United Ethiopian Democratic Force (UEDF) said that violence threatened the promise of free and fair elections.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi
Meles Zenawi has won both of Ethiopia's multi-party elections
A report out this week by Human Rights Watch accused the government of systematic political repression in the Oromia region, which made the elections a "hollow exercise".

The government has dismissed the accusations as a "pack of lies".

While the claims and counter-claims go on, there does seem to be some room for hope.

Large groups of the population are getting into the election spirit and while the government looks set to win maybe things are starting to change.

Desalegn Rahamato from the Forum for Social Studies based in Addis Ababa said "We do not expect a miracle, certainly nobody expects the government to lose but we are hoping that the composition of parliament will change substantially so there will be more opposition members of parliament."

SEE ALSO
Q&A: Ethiopia votes
13 May 05 |  Africa
Country profile: Ethiopia
18 Feb 05 |  Country profiles

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific