Addis Ababa (dpa) – Ethiopians started voting Sunday in parliamentary elections in which the ruling party was expected to retain an overwhelming majority.
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which has ruled the country for 24 years, currently has all but one seat in the 547-strong parliament.
Nearly 37 million people of a population of 94 million have registered to vote in the elections featuring 58 parties.
Human rights watchdogs say Ethiopia has one of Africa’s most repressive regimes, with at least 19 journalists or bloggers currently in prison and dozens in exile.
“While political parties have generally been able to participate in election campaigning, there are reports of intimidation and harassment of opposition political party members and supporters,” said Rachel Nicholson from Amnesty International.
Economic growth, which has averaged at 11 per cent over the past decade, has been fuelled mainly by the agriculture and service sectors. But critics say access to employment and education is highly politicized.
The African Union is the only international organization monitoring the elections, with Addis Ababa arguing that the presence of European or US observers would have cast doubt on the credibility of African observers.
Preliminary election results were expected within five days and the final results on June 22.