By ANTHONY MITCHELL
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, May 20, 2005 (AP) — Ethiopia’s main opposition coalition said Friday it will not accept election results for 84 seats that may hold the balance of power in the 547-strong parliament, increasing already high tensions as the nation awaits official results.
Both opposition and ruling parties were claiming victory based on their own projections and trading charges of rigging. As of Friday, the National Electoral Board had published results for 15 seats. Many more provisional results from Sunday’s voting — seen as the most open and fair in Ethiopian history — were expected Saturday and final, ratified results June 8.
The National Electoral Board was investigating charges of major vote fraud, deputy chief Kemal Bedri said, asking political parties to provide evidence backing their claims. He added a revote will take place Sunday in six out of Ethiopia’s 31,000 polling stations, saying serious irregularities — details were not immediately available — were recorded at just those six stations.
The main opposition, though, wants a revote and a recount of ballots for 84 seats, claiming ballot boxes were stolen, its supporters were prevented from voting and counting was stopped as it became clear that its candidates were ahead.
The Coalition for Unity and Democracy is prepared to use all peaceful and legal means to challenge the results of the 84 disputed seats, said Berhanu Nega, vice chairman of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy.
The opposition charges triggered conflicting accusations from the ruling Ethiopia People’s Revolutionary Front, which ended an oppressive dictatorship in 1991 .
The ruling party has proof that the opposition rigged the vote, spokesman Simon Ereket said. He refused to provide details, saying the evidence will be presented to electoral authorities.
“The conventional wisdom is that the state or ruling party cheats. Now we have found that it is otherwise,” Simon said. “We have ample evidence that the opposition party has rigged the election.”
Simon, though, conceded what many observers have concluded: that the opposition made strong gains, particularly in the capital and other cities seen as its stronghold. The ruling party was expected to do well in the countryside, where most of Ethiopia’s 70 million people live.
“In most urban areas … we know for sure they have won,” Simon said, adding not all those victories resulted from fraud.
The Coalition for Unity and Democracy and the allied United Ethiopian Democratic Forces came into the race with just 12 of the 547 seats in parliament.
While conceding opposition gains, the ruling party said it retained control of parliament. The opposition parties said they had enough seats to form their own coalition government. Both sides claimed victory based on projections from tallies drawn up by party monitors at individual polling stations at which results have been posted.
EU observers had said Sunday’s vote was “the most genuinely competitive elections the country has experienced,” despite some problems and human rights violations.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, known as one of the continent’s more progressive leaders, has pledged his sometimes authoritarian government would introduce greater democracy. Many had pointed to Sunday’s race as a test of his commitment to reform.
Ethiopia was an absolute monarchy under Emperor Haile Selassie until the mid-1970s, when a brutal Marxist junta overthrew him.
Civil wars wracked the ethnically fractured country in the 1980s, and famine took as many as 1 million lives. Meles’ rebel group overthrew the junta in 1991. Meles became president, then prime minister in 1995.