Africa

Ethiopia in first vote since Meles Zenawi's death

A woman looks at the election paper before voting in Addis Ababa. Image copyright AP
Image caption Predictions of a comfortable win for the governing party did not deter voters

Ethiopians have been voting for a new parliament in the first election since the death of long-serving Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in 2012.

The outgoing parliament has only one opposition MP. Mr Zenawi's successor Hailemariam Desalegn is expected to hold on to power.

Polls closed at 18:00 local time.

No major irregularities were reported, election officials said. However, the opposition said their representatives were barred from some polling stations.

Voting in some areas has been extended to Monday after some polling stations ran out of ballot papers.

Observers from the African Union issued an initial assessment to say the polls were conducted in a calm and peaceful manner.

Some preliminary results will be announced this week, the electoral board says. Full results are due next month.

Image copyright Ethiopian News Agency / Getty images
Image caption Current Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn (L), is favourite to retain the post but faces competition from leading challengers Debretsion Gebremikael (C) and Tewodros Adhanom (R)

Meles Zenawi's Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has been in power for almost a quarter of a century.

More than 36m Ethiopians - and 57 political groups - registered for the election. Many groups are organised along ethnic lines.

Other contenders include the Ethiopian Federal Democratic Unity Forum, a coalition known as Medrek [the Forum] and the Semayawi [Blue] Party, which has held protest rallies and draws support from young people.

In 2005, 174 opposition politicians won seats in the 547-seat parliament, but many did not take them up after pronouncing the vote rigged.

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Media captionEthiopia elections explained in 60 seconds

At the scene: Emmanuel Igunza, BBC News, Addis Ababa

Many of the voters turned up early at polling stations. People stood quietly in the queues, talking in low tones. At each polling station, there were separate lines for women and men. Most of the women in one polling station in Addis Ababa, were covering their heads with the traditional netela, a handmade cloth.

"As a woman, this moment is very important for me because I have seen so many changes during this regime, especially roads and bridges and development in villages. Long ago, women had to walk long kilometres to get water but now they can get water easily," government supporter Samira Abdull Razak told me.

A Semayawi Party supporter, Yonathan Tesfaye said he was voting for change: "If the government doesn't interfere with the votes then I expect that the opposition will get at the very minimum, 100 seats in parliament, but you never know."

Ethiopia has one of Africa's fastest growing economies - with government-financed investments extending to new railways, roads and hydro-electric dams.

Human rights groups have accused Prime Minister Hailemariam's government of stifling the opposition and narrowing freedom of expression.

The opposition say its members have been intimidated, harassed and some arrested ahead of the polls.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Voters formed long queues at some polling station since early morning
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Many young people have taken part in protests called by the Semayawi (Blue Party)

The government rejects the criticism. Government spokesman Redwan Hussein told AFP it was up to voters to choose.

"If they want to give us another chance, they will vote for us. If they have a grudge, they will not."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The government has invested massively in infrastructure projects

Predictions of another government success turned some voters off the idea of casting a ballot. "The election will bring no change," Behailu Ayele told Reuters. "It is already known that the EPRDF will win the vote like the previous elections - by fraud."

In the 2010 polls, Girma Seifu, of the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), was the sole opponent to win, while the EPRDF garnered 99.6%. An independent candidate was also elected.

The opposition MP is not running again.

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