News / Africa

'Democracy is on the March,' Says Ethiopian Official

James Butty

A senior Ethiopian government official says his country is ready to hold the May 23 parliamentary elections in a free, fair and credible manner.

Communications Minister Bereket Simon says allegations of politically motivated killings are a fabrication of the opposition to convince the international community that this week-ends polls will not be credible. He says the government has broadened the democratic space to avoid a repeat of the protests that followed the last national polls five years ago.

“First, we have drafted a code of conduct which was discussed by a majority of the political parties,” he explained.  “Secondly, we have formed a joint party forum; the public broadcasting service has allocated about 570 hours of radio and television time to the parties; [and] for the first time in our history the federal government has given political parties financial subsidies. So, in our opinion, everything is in place for the upcoming elections.”

Bereket said voter registration has gone well.

He said assertions by the opposition that the government was already violating the electoral code of conduct were part of a smear campaign by some in the opposition.

“Based on the facts on the ground, all pending cases that were submitted to the joint party forum have been investigated, and 95 % of the cases have been found to be untrue,” said Bereket. “Secondly, I hear that such concerns are raised by the parties who haven’t signed the code of conduct.  [They] declined to sign the code of conduct and yet [have] the audacity to accuse the ruling party of violating [it].”

He said the Ethiopian National Human Rights Commission has investigated allegations of politically motivated killings in Tigray and Oromia and has found them to be false.

Bereket said demands for an independent investigation are unnecessary.

“What is independent apart from the National Human Rights Commission? This is an independent commission accountable to the parliament. And the unfortunate thing was it invited the political parties who registered their complaints to be part of the investigation, and they declined,” said Bereket. “They are accusing the ruling party, and yet they failed to appear at every investigation. So this is a politically motivated campaign to show that the electoral process is not credible.”

He defended the continued imprisonment of opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa and brushed off criticism that without her participation, the May 23 elections would not be fair.

“This is a system where everybody is equal before the eyes of the law. So if she has violated the rule of law, she has to bear the consequences. That’s what we did, and there is no backtracking from it,” Bereket said.

Bereket denied that democracy in Ethiopia has failed to take hold since the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) came to power in 1991.

Instead he said democracy has been maturing.

“As I told you, democracy is coming of age in Ethiopia, and we see the maturing of democracy every passing year,” said Bereket.  “We have expanded the space.

“In any case, that [allegation that democracy has digressed] is a fantasy of the opposition who want us to fail. But democracy is firmly rooted in Ethiopia, and there is no backtracking from it,” he added.

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