An estimated twenty-two million Ethiopians -- ninety percent of those registered to vote -- cast ballots in recent parliamentary elections. Teams of U.S. government observers, over one-hundred-fifty representatives from the European Union, and members of the Atlanta, Georgia-based Carter Center monitored the voting. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says "the first observation is that voting was peaceful":
"It appears that opposition parties garnered voter support in urban areas but I don't think we know the full outcome yet. Administrative and procedural irregularities such as ballot shortages, slow lines, and problems with voter registration lists were observed in various locations but didn't appear to fit a pattern of systemic fraud."
Opposition parties may have made significant gains against the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. The final results are expected to be announced by June 8th. Meles Zenawi's party has been in power since 1991, when it overthrew the regime of communist-style dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. Opposition parties include the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, which says it favors economic reform, and land reform and the resolution of a border dispute with Eritrea.
State Department spokesman Boucher says opposition claims of harassment and intimidation are being investigated:
"If substantiated, of course, they [the harassment and intimidation claims] would raise a question about the government's commitment to real democratic reforms and the development of true democratic institutions."
In the meantime, says State Department spokesman Boucher, the U.S. expects "the opposition, the majority party and the government to maintain a peaceful atmosphere and respect the outcome of the voting and to refrain from violence."
The challenges that will face the newly elected leaders of Ethiopia are significant. The United Nations says tens of thousands of Ethiopian children could die of starvation. The United States has donated some four-hundred-seventy thousand metric tons of food aid to meet half of Ethiopia’s needs. The U.S. is urging other nations to do more before the summer, when millions of Ethiopians might be affected by famine.
The preceeding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States government.