Ruling party seen winning as Ethiopians vote, opponents complain

By Aaron Maasho and Drazen Jorgic ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopians voted on Sunday in a parliamentary election that is expected to hand a landslide win to the ruling party, which boasts about delivering strong economic growth while opponents say it has trampled on political freedoms. In power for almost a quarter of a century, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has overseen the transformation of a nation that was on its knees after communist purges and famine to one that now attracts foreign investors. But critics say it allows little room for dissent. The outgoing parliament of 547 seats had just one opposition member. Experts do not expect a dramatic shift in opposition fortunes in this election, which is set to return Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to office for another five years. "I will give my vote to the ruling party because I do not have faith in the opposition parties’ ability to govern," said graphic designer Yohannes Seife, 24, speaking before state radio announced that polls had opened. Ethiopia's economy has been one of the fastest growing in Africa, fuelled by a government investment drive in new railways, roads and hydro-electric dams. The World Bank forecasts growth of 10.5 percent in the year starting in July. But with the outcome of the vote seen as a certainty, some Ethiopians say they will not bother to cast their ballots. "The election will bring no change," said Behailu Ayele, 25, who did not plan to vote. "It is already known that the EPRDF will win the vote like the previous elections - by fraud." Provisional results are expected to emerge in a few days, while the final tally will not be declared until next month in the nation of 96 million people and 37 million registered voters. Rights groups accuse the government of locking up bloggers and journalists for their views, and restricting free speech. Officials deny this and say they only jail people for crimes. The government insists it will ensure a free and fair vote. The opposition won an unprecedented 147 seats in an election in 2005 but most winning opposition candidates did not join parliament, saying the ballot was rigged. In that vote, opponents swept up seats in the capital, Addis Ababa. But loyalties are more difficult to gauge in rural parts of the country, where many live in poverty.