ADDIS ABABA, 11 May 2005 (IRIN) - Ana Gomes is the European Union's chief observer for Ethiopia's national elections on 15 May. In an interview with IRIN on Tuesday, she expressed concern over reported abuses ahead of the polls but said she believed the electoral process so far had been positive. Below are excerpts from the interview:
QUESTION: Are we seeing a positive campaign or a negative one overall?
ANSWER: I am absolutely confident that the campaign is indeed very positive so far despite some problems - some of which have been overcome and others that still have to be overcome. I would say they do not taint the overall picture, which is very positive. The people of Ethiopia are very aware of the elections due to the fair and open debates that took place and were broadcast live on radio and TV. And of course there is genuine competition.
People are coming out in huge numbers, as seen here in Addis Ababa. It shows that they want to live in a democracy, to express their views and are confident in that respect. The assessment I can make at this stage is extremely positive, and I am confident that it will lead us to a very peaceful and successful polling day. I also hope that all parties will work to actually calm the expectations and emotions of their supporters so that everyone will accept the result as genuine.
Q: Do you have areas of concern ahead of the elections?
A: One of the areas of concern we have raised was related to the inflated propaganda that we have seen from both sides, which could raise bad feelings in the country regarding the elections.
We have noted that in the media, there has been a propaganda campaign equating a victory by the opposition to lawlessness and human-rights violations of the dimensions of the massacres in Rwanda and the situation in Somalia. This is, of course, not helpful at all, and we have made that point.
Q: What about complaints against the opposition?
A: We have also had reports that some opposition parties have been campaigning on the grounds that the country had no government - it was only a transitional government. This was also unfair and could raise the level of emotions in a way that would not be constructive for the whole process. In the end, we need everyone to accept the result if the elections are genuine.
Democracy is not giving the victory 100 percent to one party and defeat 100 percent to the other party. On the contrary, democracy is about sharing. Nobody wins 100 percent and nobody loses 100 percent. Democracy is about having different perspectives, a plurality of solutions for the problems of development and governance that the country faces.
Q: What other issues have you raised in your letter to the election board?
A: We were highlighting in a very candid way all the positive and negative elements. And these negative elements have to do with information we have been collecting. We have referred to situations of intimidation, in some areas more than others, situations of beatings of candidates or supporters, situations of disruptions of rallies or unfair propaganda by one side or the other.
In the countryside, there has been a perception of a lack of independence of the National Election Board because there are often overlaps with the ruling party. So we raised these concerns and said these were areas where we thought there was room for improvement. I have no doubt that the ruling party has put out a very good, very progressive code of conduct and given instructions to their supporters which could make people behave.
Q: Did you have evidence of these claims?
A: Of course. There were some areas where we had reports - and were noting they were reports - that somehow suggested a pattern of behaviour. In other cases, we had reports of murder, but could not establish whether they were due to violence linked to the elections. There were at least eight murders.
We have advised the parties who complained about these murders to follow the complaints procedure of the election board - and of course the courts and the police, because these are criminal matters. The same is true for reports of beatings. We have evidence, I myself have spoken to people who have been beaten, and we have other evidence and suggestions of a pattern of behaviour of disruptions of rallies and harassment even of young people in schools. These deserve the attention of the National Election Board.
Q: Have you had any response from the government regarding these concerns?
A: We feel it is part of our collaborative approach with the stakeholders - and the government is a major stakeholder - to keep them abreast of our perceptions of how the process is evolving. In that context we have enunciated the main aspects that characterise the process at this time, mainly a number of very positive developments and a number of areas that raise our concern and where there was room for improvements.
We have shared this with Kemal Bedri, who is chairman of the National Election Board, on the assumption that as representative of the electoral authority, he will convey to the government level cases where there were areas of improvement. This is part of our formal interaction. I do not expect any formal answer. I expect action in order to correct some of these areas of concern, and indeed I am seeing that.
Q: Have you seen improvements at the rallies?
A: This is one area where we have seen improvement because we had many reports. We were actually able to observe some situations - not in Addis Ababa but in the countryside, where rallies had been disrupted, in some cases with some pretext, but they had been disrupted. So this was extremely positive.
Q: You have seen improvements in the week since you sent this letter?
A: In several areas. Let me just highlight this extremely positive development that occurred over the weekend with these two huge demonstrations here in Addis Ababa which took place peacefully - one from the ruling party, the next day from the opposition party. It is not just the huge numbers that are important but the confidence this demonstrates on the part of the people, their hope in this process and their wish to have a say.
This is already democracy in the making and I am absolutely sure that the way everybody behaved - opposition supporters, opposition parties, the ruling party, security forces and so on -gives a sense of maturity of everybody and the wish to make the process successful.