More European Union election observers arrive in Addis Ababa

ADDIS ABABA (IRIN) – Fifty-two European Union (EU) long-term election observers flew into Ethiopia on Friday, officials said, to act as the “eyes and ears” of the mission – one month ahead of the national elections.

Rafael Lopez Pintor, deputy chief observer, told reporters in the capital, Addis Ababa, the observers were the core element of the EU mission to assess Ethiopia’s third ever democratic ballot.

“The long term observers are an extremely important ingredient in a mission,” he said. “The long term observers provide first hand information on how the campaign is being run around the country. They are our eyes and ears on the ground.

“They are all highly experienced electoral observers, they are all very well trained,” he added.

Pintor said it was critical that election observers were in the country ahead of polling, to observe and assess the entire election process.

“We want to have a view of the entire process, before, during and after the election,” he said. “They will be here about 15 or 20 days after the election. Before the election is as important or more important in some respects, than the voting day and this is the reason why they come in one month before.”

The observers are to be deployed to eight of Ethiopia’s nine regions (national elections in Somali region have been delayed until August), attend political rallies and meet parties who will be contesting the elections.

They would also be sent to potential trouble spots like Gambella in western Ethiopia where there have been serious clashes among ethnic groups in recent years.

“In principle we hope to have a similar presence in all regions but then as the election gets nearer we will have to decide where if necessary to have a more intense presence,” Pintor added.

The EU would also deploy 100 short-term observers who are expected to fly in on May 10th – five days before the elections are held.

The first contingent of the EU team arrived in March to prepare the groundwork for the observers. Opposition groups have argued that the EU deployment is too little, an argument dismissed by the observer mission.

Chief observer Ana Gomes told a press conference on arrival: “We are determined to ensure a very professional, impartial and independent job in observing the elections, so all Ethiopians can believe this will be a genuine election,” she said.

The general elections would be the third democratic ballot in Ethiopia’s history. Ethiopia has a two-house parliament: the 112-seat upper House of the Federation and the 547-seat lower House of People’s Representatives. More than 25 million of Ethiopia’s 71 million people have registered to vote.