Historic Ethiopian Vote Called 'Genuine Democracy

Last weekend, Ethiopians voted for only the third time in 3,000 years. The turnout for the election was reportedly more than 90 percent. The European Union's chief observer called it "a genuine demonstration of democracy." But there have been problems, and both the ruling party and the opposition have claimed victory. Farai Chideya speaks with Ayenew Haile Selassie, editor-in-chief of Fortune who is no relation to the country's former emperor.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

Last weekend, Ethiopians voted for only the third time in 3,000 years. The overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974 spelled the end of monarchy rule. But since then, the country has seen civil war and famine. The turnout for the election was reportedly over 90 percent. The European Union's chief observer called it a genuine demonstration of democracy. But there have been problems, and as of this interview both the ruling party and the opposition have declared victory. Ayenew Haileselassie, who's no relation to the emperor, is editor in chief of Fortune newspaper, an English-language business weekly in Ethiopia.

Welcome.

Mr. AYENEW HAILESELASSIE (Editor in Chief, Fortune Newspaper): Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Can you give us a sense of what the mood is right now in Addis Ababa?

Mr. HAILESELASSIE: The mood is one of very big anticipation by nearly the entire population. And right now the people are not sure what the actual outcome is, and that they do not know who is going to form the new government in Ethiopia.

CHIDEYA: Are you concerned about a possible crackdown on the political opposition?

Mr. HAILESELASSIE: It is really very difficult to say because it's the first time in Ethiopia that people are trying to change their governments by an election process. In all--nearly all major towns, the opposition has been claiming major victory. And for many people it's really been a serious cause for concern. If the ruling party lost to the opposition parties, will it accept--concede defeat and leave its place for them? Nobody knows a clear answer to that. The government is so far claiming that it has won a major victory. And it is a government that took power through military power, and is it going to let go in a democratic manner? We will not know until it happens. And the people are not also very sure if the opposition parties are also going to accept a defeat, so everybody is waiting in anticipation to see what's going to happen.

CHIDEYA: Give us a little bit of background on Ethiopian politics. Who are the parties representing in terms of what promises they're making to the people? And because of the regional and ethnic differences among different parts of Ethiopia, who are they trying to appeal to?

Mr. HAILESELASSIE: The opposition party, particularly the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, is trying to appeal to the entire population. That's demonstrated in the votes it's gained in all parts of the country, especially in the towns and cities. Their major argument so far has been showing the failures of the ruling party, which had its chance for the past 14 years, and they are saying that it has failed. And for that they're mentioning the recurrent drought and famine, the economic stagnation and the controversial agitation policy and several such factors. And the ruling government, which was to be taking care of all ethnic interests in the country, is saying that it needs to be re-elected because it wants to complete all the programs it has initiated during its current term.

CHIDEYA: You had an extraordinary turnout among voters. Is this a sign that people have faith that they can shape Ethiopia's political future?

Mr. HAILESELASSIE: Exactly. It has been an amazing turnout for everyone. It was demonstrated in the--when the public turned out in hundreds of thousands a week ago, both in support of the ruling party and the opposition parties. And that is--the past few months have convinced the people that at last there is going to be an alternative--a democratic alternative--instead of a military alternative.

CHIDEYA: And final election results...

Mr. HAILESELASSIE: Yeah.

CHIDEYA: ...are expected on June 8th. Ayenew Haileselassie is...

Mr. HAILESELASSIE: Yeah.

CHIDEYA: ...editor in chief of Fortune newspaper, an English-language business weekly in Ethiopia.

Thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. HAILESELASSIE: Thank you.

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