The election results are in, though formal certification will not be made until June 21 by the Electoral Board.

Government: 545 seats (499 directly, rest with ‘affiliated parties’, as the government itself calls them.

Opposition party: 1 seat

Independent: 1 seat

This result doesn’t pass the smell test as a contested election.

Most commentators agree that the actual count was probably fairly honest.  The distorted outcome is the result of the intimidation of the opposition candidates, the overt threats reported of withholding fertilizer and seeds, land for construction, building permits, business licenses, etc. from voters who didn’t support the government’s party, often with pressure to join it.  It is simply not credible, for example, that an independent Oromo opposition party that had 12 seats in the last Parliament didn’t win even one this time.

Another suspect point is the government’s claim of a ‘massive’ voter turnout.  This can’t be verified and few independent observers with allowed to see what happened.  Not even the government says that were long lines at polling stations, as there had been in 2005.  Some polling stations had to stay open until well past midnight as voters were willing to stand in life for hours.  Yet there were allegedly more voters this year. Reports, admittedly anecdotal, said that many polling stations had no lines by mid-morning. Anecdotal reports are no less credible than a government’s self-serving claims.

With a light turnout of loyalists, the absence of the spirited debate that had electrified the country in 2005, the awareness of widespread threats, force and intimidation with the return of  ’business as usual’ in an Ethiopian election, a fair count could easily have produced the one-sided results.  Opposition voters had no incentive to vote.  Voters wanted to insure access to government resources wanted to be seen to vote.

Since a heavy turnout implies a public endorsement of the outcome, the government wanted to assert and keep observers from seeing the turnout for themselves.  It worked.  The EU chief observer mechanically parroted the government’s unsupported claim, which was repeated in the international press, in his first public statement.

The question keeps coming up:  why did Meles choose to humiliate the opposition instead of just defeating them?  He already had 70% of Parliament and was free to rule as he wanted.  He could have raised that to 75% to show them who was boss.  Instead, he went to 99%+.

A veteran Amhara politician in Washington told me that it was simply revenge against those who refuse to bend to his ‘imperial’ authority.  This was an unenlightening expression of partisan anger that describes more than it explains.

An Ethiopian explanation from Addis, nicely byzantine though not fully persuasive, and second hand to me, is this:

“A very simple explanation of why Meles wiped out the old guard opposition politicians is that he cannot afford to leave them active on the political arena while his old guard are out by a decison of his party.  Besides, he will be leaving along with the remaining old guard EPRDF persons by the end of his term (according to EPRDF’s decision to replace the old leader by the youth called in Amharic Metekakat).  So he has reason, if not good reason, to fear the prospect of these people assuming power.”

The context for this comment is that Meles has announced that over the next five years the veterans of his party will be systematically replace by younger politicians to ensure a smooth transition without loss of control.  The comment suggests that as these veterans leave, senior opposition leaders who were in Parliament might have the clout to fill some of the vacuum.  Better to get rid of the senior opposition beforehand.

A State Dept. official told me that it was all a miscalculation by Meles, who wanted to reduce the opposition from 170 to maybe 25 or 30 seats.  According to this view, Meles is now in such complete control that he can’t blame any future problems on others.  This struck me as nonsense.  Meles was already in complete control with 70% of Parliament, and has been in complete control for 19 years.  By coincidence, the 19th anniversary of Meles’ arrival in Addis at the head of his army was May 28, two days ago.   He had made this same specious argument in a statement a few days ago, which our State Dept seems to have accepted at face value.