By Alisha Ryu, VOA
ADDIS ABABA – Less than a day before Ethiopia holds its third parliamentary elections in 14 years, a domestic human rights group says it strongly disagrees with reports by European Union and American observers that say the electoral process has been mostly fair and transparent.
Members of the Addis Ababa-based Ethiopian Human Rights Council told reporters Saturday that the group is dismayed by news that European Union officials and members of the Carter Center have praised the work of the country’s National Election Board.
The strongest endorsement of the board has come from former President Jimmy Carter, who arrived in the capital late Thursday to lead the Carter Center’s 50 member delegation of observers.
Mr. Carter said that, based on preliminary evidence, he found the National Election Board to be honest and fair. On Saturday, Ethiopian Human Rights Council chairman, Andargatchew Tesfaye, angrily challenged the former president’s views.
“He has been here how many hours? It is not just Mr. Carter, but others also. [They] arrive in the morning. They see officials in the afternoon and they claim that everything is okay. But it has not been okay. I wish they would leave it to us or go around and investigate the situation thoroughly,” he said.
Mr. Andargatchew’s group charges that the National Election Board, which is supposed to be independent and non-partisan, is blatantly pro-government and has acted only in the interest of securing a government victory at the polls.
Last month, the National Election Board changed the rules for fielding domestic observers, which effectively disqualified thousands of potential monitors. More recently, the board has been accused of using delay tactics for observers to obtain the necessary permits.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Council, along with other civic groups, says it believes the board’s decisions were part of a deliberate campaign by the government to keep thousands of observers out of polling stations.
The opposition has complained that far too few observers have been accredited to ensure fair voting at all 31,000 polling stations across the country.
Board officials have denied charges that they are interfering in the electoral process. They counter that it is the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, which is showing partisanship by being vehemently anti-government.
Sunday’s elections will mark the first time Ethiopian voters will go to the polls amid international scrutiny. More than 300 international observers, including 150 from the European Union and 50 from the United States, have been invited by the government and the opposition to monitor the voting.
Elections were held in 1995 and again in 2000, in which Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s ruling coalition won an overwhelming numbers of seats in the lower house of parliament.
This time, Ethiopia’s fragmented opposition has put aside their differences to form the strongest challenge yet to the government.
The ballot is being closely watched in Washington, which counts Ethiopia as a key ally in its war against terror. The country occupies a strategic location in the Horn of Africa, where Muslim radicals are believed to be recruiting and planning new attacks.