ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia’s electoral board will unveil the provisional result on Monday of a national election that is expected to extend Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s time in office to nearly 25 years.
Political analysts say a convincing win for his ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) will give the former rebel leader the chance to accelerate development in Washington’s main regional ally and improve its democratic record before Meles quits as planned in 2015.
The last election in 2005 descended into deadly riots when the opposition said it was cheated of victory after a campaign which captured the imagination of many and gave ruling party critics a clean sweep in the capital and other cities.
There is less of a chance of violence this time because many opposition supporters believe they had little chance of winning, the 2005 riots were crushed and Ethiopians in general want to avoid a repeat, the analysts said.
The main opposition challenge came from a coalition of eight parties known as Medrek, or Forum, which is united chiefly in its desire to remove the ruling party from office. Opposition leaders were not commenting publicly on Monday.
Meles told Reuters in an interview on Sunday his party would win as it had presided over seven years of double-digit growth and has begun to reform the political and judicial landscape.
While nearly 10 percent of the population relied on emergency food aid last year, the government has invested heavily in infrastructure and Meles now wants to step up power production, improve telecommunications and develop industry.
This means Ethiopia has become a growing destination for foreign direct investment.
Some analysts say if Meles uses a resounding victory to consolidate power at home before stepping aside in 2015, his reputation as a leading African statesman would be sullied and rights abuses could overshadow his development legacy.
European Union election observers said Sunday’s poll was peaceful and calm, albeit with some claims of irregularities that needed to be checked. They said the election showed Ethiopian citizens wanted their democratic rights respected.
Both sides claimed some of their members were killed during the campaign in politically-motivated attacks in the opposition stronghold of Oromia and Tigray, the powerbase for Meles.
Some opposition leaders began complaining that the election was flawed before polling booths closed, drawing swift condemnation from the government and the electoral board who said they were undermining the process.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Monday that international observers should condemn voter intimidation in Ethiopia ahead of the election, saying local officials threatened and bullied people into voting for the ruling party.
“I don’t know why you bother to quote this highly controversial organisation,” government spokesman Shimeles Kemal told Reuters.
“Human Rights Watch and other so-called human rights organisations are instruments by which powerful ideologies are imposed on independent states who resist them,” he said.