FAST Update Ethiopia: Semi-annual risk assessment Jan - June 2005


Risk Assessment:

The Country Stability index shows a certain degree of improvement in January before deteriorating substantially in May and June. The proportion of Forceful Actions, though remaining at a low level during the first quarter of the year, rose significantly over the past three months. These tendencies reflect the erosion of the relatively positive atmosphere that had developed during the run-up to the 15 May general elections and, in particular, the government's use of armed force in the aftermath of the elections to quell opposition protests against voting irregularities and the release of disputed provisional results.

The relatively low level of Forceful Actions in the first quarter of the year reflects the Government's agreement, in January, to most of the demands for electoral reforms made by the main opposition parties, including the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF), the All Ethiopia Unity Party (AEUP), and the Oromo National Congress (ONC), though the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) both reiterated their intention to boycott the elections. The Government subsequently showed a willingness to allow political opposition greater access to state-controlled media and in April a New Code of Conduct was signed by the ruling and opposition parties, committing both sides to peaceful and legal campaigning.

In April the National Election Board (NEB) issued a ban on the planned fielding of observers by Ethiopian organisations, and in May banned 3 US non-governmental organisations for their alleged failure to meet the necessary legal requirements. The domestic ban was subsequently overturned by the courts, but this left little time to train and deploy observers. There were also complaints by opposition parties of government harassment and intimidation of their members and supporters. These concerns notwithstanding, the run-up to the elections was widely praised as Ethiopia's most democratic ever by diplomats and international observers, including those from the EU, and by former US president, Jimmy Carter.

Drastic changes in the climate occurred in the immediate post-election period when the opposition and ruling parties all made numerous allegations of massive vote rigging, with numerous complaints of fraud in 299 of the country's 527 constituencies. US State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, was among many who subsequently condemned the 'excessive use of force' by the security forces to quell widespread opposition protests in the capital, Addis Ababa, against the release of disputed provisional results that gave an overall majority in the country's 547-parliament  to the ruling party, the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

Government Forceful Actions included the killing of a student by security forces and the arrest of a further 400 students during demonstrations, on 6 June, at Addis Ababa University; 36 people were killed and hundreds arrested during a police crackdown in the capital on protests, including a 5 day strike by taxi drivers against the student detentions. The government blamed the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), which claimed majority support in Addis Ababa and other urban areas, for instigating the protests in defiance of a month-long, post-election, ban on public demonstrations.

Relative calm was only restored to the capital on Friday, 10 June, following a truce brokered by the EU in which opposition and government officials agreed to meet with NEB authorities to hammer out the modalities for handling the more than 400 complaints of fraud in 299 constituencies. However, the UEDF has since claimed that, during 11/12 June, security forces killed 2 of its members, including legislator-elect, Tesfaye Adane. There were also complaints by CUD that its leading members, including the chairman, had been placed under house arrest.

Whether, and for how long, the truce will hold remains to be seen. But whatever the outcome, the events of the past month are likely to have a continued effect upon PM Meles Zenawi's hitherto highly regarded international image. His membership in Blair's Commission for Africa, with its emphasis on 'good governance', is also a source of embarrassment for the UK government which, on 15 June, announced its decision to suspend its planned =A330m increase in Ethiopia's direct budget support.

There have also been continued anti-government actions by the ONLF, in Somali region and, to a lesser extent, by the OLF in Oromiya region. Other civil Forceful Actions included further inter-ethnic clashes over disputed borders, in Somali region, between Somali and Oromo groups.

Provisional results for 519 constituencies were announced on June 25, giving the EPRDF a lead with 303, followed by the CUD (123), UEDF (56) and OFDM (11). While the victory of the EPRDF was widely forecast, the extensive increase of seats won by the opposition demonstrates a substantial change in the Ethiopian political sphere.

Much of the future - regarding the Country Stability and Forceful Actions indices - will depend on the Government's handling of the investigations into complaints of voting fraud. Complaint Investigation Panels (CIPs) left for the various constituencies on 29 June and are expected to complete the investigations during the first two weeks of July. The NEB, however, has announced that only complaints that could influence on the outcome of the results would be looked into.

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