- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 17, 2005

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Ethiopia’s ruling party said last night it had won hotly contested weekend general elections, but offered an olive branch to the opposition, which made significant gains in the 547-seat parliament.

While conceding it had lost all of Addis Ababa’s 23 parliamentary seats, as well as the capital’s city council, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) said it would soon form a new government with a parliamentary majority.

?We have won the necessary seats to form a federal government. We accept the verdict of the people,? Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s party said in a statement, adding that he would work in good faith with the opposition.

?We will remain committed to work as usual in areas where we have lost with those who won,? the statement said, adding that the party had also taken four of eight regional assemblies: South Ethiopia Peoples, Oromia, Amhara and Tigray.

It gave no indication of how many parliamentary seats the EPRDF had won in Sunday’s election, but it had previously held 481 posts, and the state-run Ethiopian News Agency reported that it had been a ?landslide victory.?

The statement was released after Ethiopia’s two main opposition groups, which had only a handful of members in the parliament, said they had won as many as 61 parliamentary seats, including at least 20 in Addis Ababa.

The election was the vast, impoverished Horn of Africa country’s third since the 1991 fall of a Soviet-backed dictatorship, second since the advent of multiparty politics and first under international scrutiny.

The announcement came as preliminary vote counts from the more than 30,000 individual polling stations trickled in, with the opposition claiming big wins and dropping earlier threats to boycott the results.

The two opposition groups, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) and the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF), had set a target of winning 185 parliamentary seats together, enough to block legislation.

It was not clear whether they had come close to reaching that goal, but by winning the 23 Addis Ababa seats, the CUD passed the threshold of 20 needed to proposed bills.

Despite the opposition’s excitement, observers said the EPRDF had been in no danger of losing its bid for a third term, owing to strong support in rural areas, where 85 percent of the population lives.

And the conciliatory tone of the EPRDF statement was a signal the party, which allowed unprecedented media access to the opposition during the campaign, wants warm ties with donors who pay 40 percent of the nation’s annual budget.

Earlier yesterday, the National Election Board pronounced the peaceful election a success, with more than 90 percent turnout from the country’s 26 million registered voters and only minor logistical problems.

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