ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi urged foreign nations on Tuesday to respect his landslide election win and told the opposition they would be consulted on decisions of national concern.
The country’s electoral board told state television the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and allies had won 477 seats out of 479 declared, giving Meles an overwhelming majority in the 547-member parliament.
“Even if you don’t have seats in parliament we promise to consult you on issues of national concern. We consider you an important part of this renaissance,” Meles said, reaching out to opposition leaders at a victory rally in Addis Ababa.
Meles told tens of thousands of cheering supporters that foreign forces could not overturn the outcome of the poll in this Horn of Africa nation and key Washington ally and warned against any post-election bloodshed.
A European Union observer mission, however, said the election was marred by the EPRDF’s use of state resources for campaigning, putting the opposition at a disadvantage ahead of the vote, but this did not mean the count itself was invalid.
“Everyone was equal, but some were more equal than others,” chief observer Thijs Berman told a news conference, saying the poll fell short of some international standards.
“The European Union observation mission considers that the playing field for the 2010 election was not sufficiently balanced, leaning in favour of the ruling party in many areas.”
Western diplomats are watching closely to see how the opposition will react after many of its senior leaders lost their seats in the parliamentary victory for Meles, who is looking to foreign investors to help accelerate development.
Analysts commented earlier that if the EU said the poll was flawed it might embolden the opposition to challenge the result and take to the streets in protest as they did in 2005.
At the last election, an opposition coalition cried foul after the EPRDF and allies won 327 seats. Riots erupted in the capital on two separate occasions. Security forces killed a total of 193 protesters and seven policemen died.
“HANDS OFF ETHIOPIA”
Tens of thousands of ruling party supporters streamed into a square in Ethiopia’s capital to celebrate the election win and to reject opposition and rights groups’ claims of vote-rigging.
Waving Ethiopian flags, wearing ruling party T-shirts and holding photographs of Meles aloft, his supporters sang: “Respect our vote, respect our decision, respect our choice.”
Placards in the national colours of green, yellow and red were handed out as people massed in Meskel Square to praise the landslide victory by the former bush guerrilla leader, with many written in English as well as the Amharic language.
The posters said: “Stop second guessing us!”, “Respect our sovereign voice”, “Our votes are not for sale”, “We choose our leader, no one else” and “It takes courage to accept defeat!”
The government has warned that any politicians who try to spark post-election violence will be held responsible. Opposition leaders were jailed after the 2005 clashes.
“The people’s vote will not be overturned by foreign forces,” said Meles, standing behind a transparent bullet-proof screen in Meskel Square and wearing a yellow baseball cap.
“Some of our foreign friends have disappointed us but that’s in the past. We urge them now to give recognition to the people’s vote. The politics of hate is out. Not one life should be lost in post-election riots,” he said.
Meles told Reuters in an interview on Sunday his party would win as it had presided over seven years of double-digit growth and had begun to reform the political and judicial landscape in this growing destination for foreign direct investment.
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.
Some opposition leaders began complaining the election was flawed before polling booths closed, saying the EPRDF had routinely intimidated and harassed critics in the days and months ahead of the election.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Monday that observers should condemn voter intimidation, drawing a sharp response from the government which said the group was an instrument of those wanting to interfere in independent states.
A text message in English winging its around the capital early on Tuesday attacked the rights group and encouraged residents to converge on Meskel Square.
“Let us go out now and protest against this flagrant violation of our rights and send them a clear message: Hands off Ethiopia,” the message said.