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Ruling Party Set To Return After Key Vote

Ethiopians voted weekend in the country’s first general elections since the death of strongman Meles Zenawi in 2012,with his successor Hailemariam Desalegn all but certain to stay in power.

Over 36.8 million Ethiopians registered for Sunday’s polls, but analysts say the election in Africa’s second- most populous nation falls far short of true democracy. The opposition also alleges the government has used authoritarian tactics to guarantee victory.

The outgoing Ethiopian parliament had one opposition MP, and one of the main opposition candidates, Yilekal Getinet, accused the government of “closing” political space.

Voters stood peacefully in lines in the capital Addis Ababa. Stations were calm, without long queues but a regular flow of people passing through to cast their ballots.

Posters of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) dominate the capital,and the party is again expected to get a near-clean sweep of the 547 seat parliament.

“I except the EPRDF to win – but maybe the opposition will get more seats so there will be more discussion about what the government is doing,” said Wossen, who was waiting to vote. “It is better for the country — now there is only one opposition MP and no discussion.”

Polls opened at 6:00 am (0300 GMT) and closed at 6:00 pm (1500 GMT), with initial results expected within two to five days, and final official tallies on June 22.

African Union observer mission chief Hifikepunye Pohamba, a former president of Namibia, described the elections as “peaceful and orderly”.

Three observers from different par- ties were seen in stations in the capital’s Kazanches and Cherkos districts, but in other centres only observers from the ruling party were present.

“So far, so good. I did not see any problem,” said an observer from the opposition Semayawi party.

Some security vehicles with water cannons were seen on the streets, but the city was calm.

The EPRDF, in power for over two decades, insists the result will be based on its economic record alone.

Ethiopia is now one of Africa’s top performing economies and a magnet for foreign investment. It also remains a favourite of key international donors, despite concerns over human rights, as a bastion of stability in an otherwise troubled region.

Rights groups — which routinely accuse Ethiopia of clamping down on opposition supporters and journalists, and of using anti-terrorism laws to silence dissent and jail critics — have said polls would not be free or fair due to a lack of freedom of speech.

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