Ethiopia Elections: Postelection Statement, May 16, 2005
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, May 16, 2005
In Addis Ababa, 09-47-20-65
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia…The Carter Center thanks the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia for its invitation to observe the May 15, 2005, national elections and all those who welcomed us and took the time to contribute to our understanding of Ethiopian politics and the electoral process.
Under the leadership of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, his wife Rosalynn, former Botswana President Sir Ketumile Joni Masire, and former Prime Minister of Tanzania Judge Joseph Warioba, the Center deployed 50 international observers from 17 countries to seven regions, as well as the municipalities of Dire Dawa and Addis Ababa. In Addis Ababa the delegation leadership met with the prime minister, the National Election Board, the minister of foreign affairs, the minister of information, the president, leaders of the ruling and opposition parties, civil society leaders, and representatives of other international observer teams.
Because election results are still being compiled, The Carter Center can only offer a preliminary statement. A more comprehensive final election report will be published after final results are announced.
The May 2005 elections, the third to be held under the current constitution, showed great promise in the deepening of Ethiopian democracy. For the first time in history the majority of Ethiopian voters were presented with choices when they went to the polls. We believe that Ethiopia has made tremendous strides toward democracy in the last several months, including more open debate, greater political participation, large rallies, and enormously high voter turnout on election day.
The Pre-Election Period
The Carter Center will provide more details on the pre-election period in its final report. However, at this time, we highlight several key observations. There were more open debates, including a long series of widely-discussed live televised debates. Opposition parties benefited from guaranteed access to the state-owned electronic media. Candidates campaigned widely and effectively. Most dramatically, the electoral campaign climaxed in its final week with large and peaceful campaign rallies.
While the campaign started out at a high level, focusing on issues rather than personalities, it degenerated in the final week into charges and countercharges of engaging in "hate speech." The EPRDF's likening the opposition to Rwanda's interhamwe is as, or more, regrettable as are some opposition slurs against the Tigrayans in the ruling party.
Some reports of intimidation and harassment continue. Many allegations were difficult to substantiate and at least some were exaggerations. We will continue to monitor the investigation of these claims.
We regret the NEB's initial directive to restrict the types of domestic organizations that could receive credentials for election observation, but congratulate the manner by which legal appeals were pursued and the rapid and professional response of the NEB following the Supreme Court's decision. Domestic election observers, with their intimate familiarity with the country and their presence throughout the electoral process, have an important role to play and their future role should be encouraged.
Openings around the country occurred relatively smoothly and on time, with most delays only lasting 20 minutes to an hour. All election officials were present and electoral materials accounted for at the time of openings. Any delays in openings seem simply to have been caused by election officials taking care to carry out procedures properly and the extensive time it took to sign and stamp all ballots. Many polling stations commenced voting before the total ballot count was completed. As a result, some stations were counting and stamping ballots throughout the day.
The environment throughout most of the country was calm and peaceful. Voter turnout was overwhelming, and while citizens had to wait in extremely long lines, they showed remarkable patience. In the late afternoon, the NEB announced that all citizens who were in line at 6 p.m. would be allowed to vote, which alleviated some concerns. Thus, citizens who wished to vote were able to do so.
Some irregularities in procedures did occur, the most notable being that ID cards were not always checked. While officials consistently asked for voter cards, they failed to be equally diligent on the presentation of ID documents. As mentioned before, ballots were not all counted and marked before openings. Limited accounts of underage voting were reported.
Party representatives and domestic and community observers were present in most of the polling stations, though more so in urban than in rural areas. Remarkably, there were almost no reports of problems from such individuals, although opposition party headquarters did submit a list of problems and allegations to Carter Center staff.
One area of particular concern was in Hossana, where unrest occurred in the rural areas of Soro and Bure. In Bure, officials were not checking ID cards or voter cards, and crowds became agitated with the poor management of the process. As the crowd grew more agitated, voting was suspended between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. It is unclear whether the suspension of voting was due to attempts to disrupt voting or because officials were fearful and unable to control the growing crowd. In Soro, Carter Center observers witnessed a large number of underage voters. There also were unconfirmed reports of vote buying. In addition, the bags that the ballots were delivered in were opened one day before voting commenced. Dessie City, Kebele 10, was also an area of concern, where crowds grew restless at an overcrowded polling station and tried to push into the station.
We have made observations across Ethiopia and trust that the NEB counting, tabulation, and verification will be completed in a careful and expeditious manner. Final results will not be announced for quite some time. We call on all parties, candidates, and voters to be patient and wait for the process to reach its conclusion. All concerns or complaints about the process should be pursued through the processes established within the NEB and the courts. We call on all parties to avoid inflammatory statements. Now is the time for private citizens and party leaders to demonstrate patience and restraint so that the important advances of election day can be preserved.
We will keep a small staff in country and will continue to observe in the aftermath of the election. After election results have been finalized we will issue a final report which will be shared with the NEB, in compliance with Ethiopia's Code of Conduct for International Observers.