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Last Updated: Friday, 13 May 2005, 08:14 GMT 09:14 UK
Q&A: Ethiopia votes

On Sunday Ethiopians are going to the polls, in elections widely considered to be a test of the ruling party's willingness to bring democracy to the country.

Despite mounting its strongest challenge yet, the opposition is not expected to unseat Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which has ruled the country since 1991.

Q: Who is standing?

Some 35 parties are contesting the seats, although most of these are members of the three main coalitions: the ruling EPRDF and the opposition Coalition of Unity and Democracy (CUD) and the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces(UEDF).

Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF)
Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM)
Oromo People's Democratic Organization (OPDO)
The South Ethiopia People's Democratic Movement (SEPDM)

The EPRDF is a four-party coalition founded in 1989 in a merger between the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian People's Democratic Movement - later renamed Amhara National Democratic Movement. The TPLF draws most of its support from the Tigray people of northern Ethiopia, Mr Zenawi's home base.

The opposition CUD and UEDF say they have set aside ethnic differences to form the two coalitions, and have pledged to unite to win a parliamentary majority.

In the last parliament, the opposition held just 14 seats in the 547-member chamber.

Q: How will the election work?

Around 25 million Ethiopians are registered to vote in the polls.

Ruling EPRDF supporter
The ruling EPRDF is confident of victory

Voting will take place in each of Ethiopia's nine states, except in the south-eastern Somali Region, where the election will not take place until August, to allow resources to register nomadic pastoralists in the area.

The party or coalition with the most seats will nominate the prime minister.

On the same day, voters will also elect representatives to nine regional state parliaments, which will in turn appoint members to the upper house of parliament. Results are expected at the end of May.

Q: What are the main issues?

Peace with Eritrea remains one of the most contentious issues in this election and voters view it as a matter of national pride.

The two countries fought a border war in 1998-2000 which cost 70,000 lives. A truce has just about held since but in April both the UN and the Eritrean government warned continuing disputes over border demarcation pose a danger to peace.

Land ownership is another important election issue.

The opposition believes the best way to fight poverty is ending the state's ownership of all land, and argues farmers must be free to buy and sell property and develop wealth.

The government insists the state must own land, arguing it gives more security to farmers.

Good governance is another issue preoccupying the parties.

The ruling EPRDF coalition calls itself a stout defender of democracy and says it has brought about tangible changes in the areas of land reform, education and democracy.

This is strongly contested by the UEDF which says the EPRDF has not addressed problems faced by ethnic nationalities.

Q: What part have the media played?

In this election the ruling EPRDF has allowed the opposition access to the state-run media, with its members taking part in televised debates.

But there have been accusations of biased reporting in the state-run media in favour of the ruling party and the opposition has complained that it has been denied media access.

Q: Are there any international observers?

For the first time Ethiopia has invited international observers to monitor its elections. The European Union, the US-based Carter Centre and the African Union have all sent observers to country.

This has not gone without hitches. In March, six US election observers were expelled on the grounds they were operating illegally and "not invited".

Q: Will the vote be free and fair?

Although some international observers have acknowledged that Ethiopia has made progress on the road to democracy, concerns have been raised over alleged human rights abuses in the run-up to polls.

Opposition supporter
The opposition says it will reduce tensions with Eritrea

A report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said regional authorities and security forces continue to suppress political dissent in the southern Oromia state.

Oromia is home to the Oromo ethnic group and has been the centre of dissent against the EPRDF. Ethiopia's Information Minister Berekat Simon has dismissed the HRW report.

The chief EU observer in the country, Ana Gomez, has also raised a number of concerns about the election campaign, notably government accusations that the opposition is promoting ethnic hatred that could flare into violence similar to the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaus abroad.

Country profile: Ethiopia
18 Feb 05 |  Country profiles

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