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Ethiopian election holds meager prospects for change

May 24, 2015 - ETHIOPIA

Africa's second most populous country holds a legislative election that shows little chance of loosening the absolute control of the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) over the government.

Ahead of the election, the 19 other political parties appear too small or enfeebled to mount a challenge, which suggests the vote for the bicameral parliament will be one of Africa's calmest in 2015.

State assemblies will choose members of the 108-seat upper chamber, and the public will choose members of the 547-seat lower house. The ruling party controls 545 of the 547 seats in the legislature, which has only one opposition MP. The winning party chooses the prime minister. Signs of a power struggle within the ruling EPRDF, the presumed winner of the election, suggests Prime Minister Hailemariam Desaleg can't count on reelection by his party. He replaced leader Meles Zenawi, who died in 2012 after ruling Ethiopia with an iron fist for 21 years.

Britain's Guardian newspaper describes the country as a paradox, observing that a generation after a massive famine it is hailed by pundits as an "African lion" because of stellar economic growth and a burgeoning middle class. Construction is booming in the capital, Addis Ababa, home of the Chinese-built African Union headquarters.

The Economist magazine sees a looming economic problem in the government's policy of keeping a large part of the workforce in agriculture in a population that has almost doubled every generation.

Well-buoyed by economic growth, the government is well positioned to shrug off the calls of donor countries for political reform. Potential trouble looms from the World Bank. A recent report leaked to the media determined that there is an operational link between the World Bank projects in Ethiopia and a government relocation program known as "villagization". Another word for resettlement of farmers and other rural Ethiopians to make way for development and projects such as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which could displace as many as 20,000 people, it has drawn significant attention from human rights organizations.

Britain is supporting a dictatorship in Ethiopia' (Guardian 6 Jul 2014)

Doing it my way (Economist 2 Mar 2013)

Date written/update: 2015-02-25