Elections took place during May 2010 in Ethiopia to the House of People's Representatives and the State Councils. The ruling EPRDF party and its partners won 544 of 547 seats in the House of People's Representatives in a first past the post electoral system. I welcome the publication on 8th November last of the final report of the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM). Ireland joins with other members of the EU in thanking the Mission, which included a number of Irish Election Observers, for providing an impartial and independent evaluation of the electoral process in Ethiopia. We have taken careful note of the assessment and recommendations contained in its final report.
While I welcome positive aspects of the Mission's assessment of the elections including the high turn-out, the peaceful, orderly nature of the polling as well as the generally competent organisation of the elections, I am concerned at the assessment that the process fell short of international commitments. In particular, I share concerns that the electoral playing field was insufficiently balanced, that political space was constrained and that more could have been done to build the confidence of opposition political parties in the process.
When I visited Ethiopia in early July, I had the opportunity to discuss political developments with leading Ethiopian Government figures, including Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, as well as with representatives of the main opposition parties. A theme during all of these meetings was that of how best political dialogue and engagement with civil society can be developed in the post-electoral period and how the international community can support the acceleration of the process of democratisation. I urged that positive steps be taken to build confidence in the democratic institutions.
The EU Election Observation Mission has put forward constructive recommendations in this regard in its recently published report. I encourage the Ethiopian Government to draw on these recommendations as I am convinced that Ethiopia's undoubted development achievements can best be protected and built upon by accelerated progress in the process of democratisation.
Ethiopia is one of the priority countries for Ireland's aid programme, where we have a commitment to long term strategic assistance. Our development assistance, together with support from other international partners, including the EU, and increased expenditure by the Government of Ethiopia is making a marked difference to the lives of the people of the country. However, the needs remain great. Encouraging stronger advances in democracy as well as in other areas of Ethiopia's development are central to our dialogue with Ethiopia. As noted by the High Representative, Catherine Ashton, in her statement on the publication of the EU EOM's report, the European Union attaches great importance to the promotion of human rights, democratic governance and the rule of law. Ireland and the European Union will maintain and strengthen our dialogue with Ethiopia on these shared values in the period ahead