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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 August 2005, 08:40 GMT 09:40 UK
Ethiopia poll reveals rural-urban divide
By Mohammed Adow
BBC News, Addis Ababa

Voter
Turnout was 90% in Ethiopia's most democratic elections to date
Ethiopia's recent elections have been marked by a huge breakthrough for the Ethiopian opposition, which in the last parliament held only 12 seats.

It also is said to have been the most open election held in Ethiopia, and the first to be monitored by international observers.

Opposition parties have increased their representation in parliament significantly.

The opposition parties now hold 174 seats in the 547-member parliament.

The Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) won by big margins all 23 seats in the capital, Addis Ababa.

Allegations of fraud from both sides have not helped in quelling already high tensions and emotions amongst the Ethiopian public.

Urban areas

The poor performance of the ruling party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), in Addis Ababa and other major cities was not totally unexpected.

Election Board chairman
Allegations of fraud have been made in some 200 constituencies
Many of Ethiopia's politically active people reside in these towns.

Addis Ababa is also home to many of Ethiopia's unemployed youth and hundreds of thousands of people who fled from the rural areas to the city in search of livelihood but found none.

Unemployment has been of great concern to the urban dwellers.

Political analysts point to recent demolition of slums by the Addis Ababa city government, which left many people homeless, as one of the reasons for the government's dismal performance in the city.

Urban dwellers were also the main audiences targeted in televised debates that created awareness among the usually apolitical Ethiopian public.

It was just a matter of time therefore before the people showed their dissatisfaction - and the election presented them with the right opportunity.

So it is no wonder that the mayor, Arkebe Orkubaye, and his deputy, Hilawe Yoseph, were both hounded out of office.

Also defeated are Education Minister Genet Zewdie, Capacity Building Minister Teferra Walwa and Revenue Minister Getachew Belay.

The government has conceded defeat in Addis Ababa.

Information Minister Bereket Simon said his party welcomed early results of the elections despite losing the capital. The EPRDF termed the Addis Ababa results as indicators of how democratic the elections were.

Rural stranglehold

Analysts also point out that it would make sense if the government had swept to victory in rural areas.

Officials counting votes in the capital
The final result will not be known till 8 June
The government is everything to the residents of the rural areas. It is their landlord as land countrywide belongs to the state. It gives them fertiliser and farm implements on loan, and also distributes food aid to them whenever famine and drought strike.

The EPRDF also gets credit for having ousted the Derg, and for delivering schools, roads, water and electricity to many in the rural areas over the past decade.

It has also been arguing that it has been on the right track in terms of the development of the country's economy which grew by over 11% last year.

Ethiopia is an ethnic and religious mosaic, with 80 languages and a history of local revolts.

To ease tensions, the government has opted for a decentralised federal system, with nine regions drawn along ethnic lines, and has even included the right to secede in the constitution.

Many have applauded the EPRDF on this move and is seen as another reason for its good showing in rural Ethiopia.

Alternatives

The opposition, however, argues that this actually aggravates divisions.

CUD leader
The CUD have become a political force to be reckoned with
Many also believe, resentfully, that the government is dominated by Mr Zenawi's ethnic group, the Tigray, who spearheaded the revolt against the Derg.

The opposition has also made use of Ethiopia's poverty as a campaign tool to whip the governing party and have been attributing the positive growth in the economy to good rains.

The CUD, a four-party grouping chaired by civil engineer Hailu Shawil, says it offers a liberal alternative to the EPRDF and has been campaigning, among other things, for land to be privatised.

The other significant opposition group to emerge recently is the United Ethiopia Democratic Forces (UEDF), which comprises 15 parties and has been gaining seats in the parliament especially from Oromiya and Southern Regions.

Its leaders are Dr Marara Gudina, a writer and professor at Addis Ababa University and Dr Beyene Petros a leading opposition legislator in parliament.


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