As Ethiopian vote ends ruling party seen extending 20 years in power. Results expected Friday

In the last election in 2010, the opposition took 8% of the popular vote and won just one seat out of 547.

ETHIOPIANS voted Sunday in parliamentary elections that are expected to extend the ruling coalition’s two decades in power.

Almost 37 million people are registered to vote at 45,000 polling stations across Ethiopia, whose population of about 97 million is Africa’s biggest after Nigeria.

In the last election in 2010, the opposition took 8% of the popular vote and won one seat out of 547 in the first-past-the-post system. Polling stations closed at 6 p.m. and results are expected by next Friday, according to the electoral board.

“I have voted for the bee,” Mudesir Lamango, 40, said in Addis Ababa, referring to the ruling party’s symbol. “They have been working on many things.”

The ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front, known as the EPRDF, has campaigned on its record of building infrastructure and reducing poverty rates. The economy, one of Africa’s fastest-growing, is expected to expand about 8.5% this year and next, according to the International Monetary Fund.

It’s a “foregone conclusion” that the EPRDF will win a majority because of its development record and a fragmented opposition, said Dereje Feyissa Dori, Africa research director at the International Law and Policy Institute in Norway. “Nevertheless, there are enough grievances for the opposition to exploit and make it to the parliament,” he said in an e- mailed response to questions on Friday.

Coalition of four

The EPRDF, a coalition of four regional parties led by Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, is competing in four of Ethiopia’s nine federal regions and also in two self-governing cities—Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa. Parties allied to the EPRDF, which has more than 7 million members, won all 48 seats in the remaining five federal regions in 2010.

Voters also elected lawmakers for regional legislatures on Sunday. The EPRDF and partner parties won all but one of the 1,904 seats in those legislatures in 2010.

The government was expecting a turnout of 90% of registered voters after 70% cast their ballots by 2 p.m., Arkebe Oqubay, a special adviser to the prime minister, said. “We believe this election will be exemplary,” he said in a text message on Sunday.

The EPRDF expects to retain most of its seats across the country, particularly given strong support among farmers, who make up about four-fifths of the population, Communications Minister Redwan Hussien told reporters May 15.

“There might be some seats to be given away and we’d be happy if that means the decision of the voters,” he said. “If you look at the urban vote usually it is divided.”

Main competitor

The EPRDF’s main competitor is the four-party Ethiopia Federal Democratic Unity Forum, or Medrek, which has 270 candidates for the federal chamber, according to the electoral board. The Blue Party, which formed in 2012, has 139 candidates and the Ethiopian Democratic Party fields 165. A total of 58 parties competed in the elections.

The European Union wasn’t invited to monitor this year’s polls, it said Feb. 26, adding that its previous recommendations hadn’t been accepted by the government. The EU said in 2010 that the electoral board relied on EPRDF-controlled local administrations to manage the vote, which was biased in favor of the incumbent.

The electoral board is “adequately resourced” to manage the poll, which will also be monitored by 45,000 domestic observers, African Union election observation mission head Hifikepunye Pohamba told reporters on May 20.

“Until now it’s been a good process,” said Taye Seyoum, a Medrek observer of the voting at Holeta town in Oromia region, in an interview.

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