May 16, 2005
Meles goes to Adwa
Ethiopia held its elections - and from where I saw them in Addis Ababa and Adwa they went peacefully and relatively efficiently. I was part of a group of journalists who accompanied the prime minister Meles Zenawi on a morning flight to Adwa to watch him vote. (Adwa, as well as being the site of Ethiopia's famous defeat of Italy, is the prime minister's constituency and birthplace).
It was a very quick there-and-back trip courtesy of Ethiopian Airlines. Other Ethiopian websites will probably give you lots of political analysis and debate. I can exclusively reveal to you that the prime minister gets to sit in a tiny first class section all to himself when he travels - made up of one large seat in the place of two rows of normal "cattle class" seating. His morning reading includes The Financial Times, the Economist and, I think, Newsweek. He gets a large vase of roses on his in-flight table, removed just before the bumpy take-off. There were lots of refreshments - shared by everyone - including the offer of free packs of cigarettes brought round by one of the flight attendants on a tray. (I shall have to read up on the prime minister's health policy.) He, his two children and a relatively small but armed entourage sat at the front. The hacks sat at the back.
We flew to Axum and then sped along the 20km or so of roads to Adwa where the townspeople gradually realised who was visiting them. The crowd, which quickly gathered, was enthusiastic and the polling station was efficient and given the thumbs up by the three EU observers there. The only PR hitch was that it soon emerged that there was no one standing against the prime minister. He voted for himself, as did everyone else who didn't spoil a ballot paper, and drove off again about five minutes later leaving me and five other journalists stranded without a lift.
Back it Addis it was straight to a press conference organised by Ana Gomes, the top EU observer, who criticised an opposition call to reject results, which came before polls closed. "It is a bit difficult to understand why those who are also responsible for the success want to discredit it so early," she said.
Then the rest of the day is was a question of trawling around a series of very quiet and well-organised polling stations in the capital. There were queues outside some of them as late as 6pm (voting started at 6am). As you read this, the opposition parties are gearing up to disown the election which, everyone seems to agree, will go to the ruling EPRDF - at least outside Addis. It will be interesting to see what happens if all the opposition parties reject the result, while all the international observers welcome it. The results should filter through over the next couple of days.
You can see some pics of the Adwa trip on Flickr.
Posted by aheavens at May 16, 2005 4:48 AM