Observation of the 2005 Ethiopian elections in two rural communities in south-east Amhara State reveals a picture very different from that presented in national-level analyses derived largely from urban areas. Deeply entrenched attitudes to power and government in the study area make the idea of peaceful electoral competition inconceivable. Peasants are first and foremost concerned to vote for the winning side, since to do otherwise carries intense risks to their welfare and even survival. The freedom with which the main opposition party was able to campaign until a few weeks before the election convinced many peasants that the government had abdicated, and that they should vote for the opposition as the likely winners. Belated mobilisation of the ruling party and state apparatus challenged this perception and created great uncertainty. This peasantry's political, economic and cultural alienation, allied to authoritarian rule and a lack of voter information placed genuinely ‘free and fair’ elections out of reach.
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