ADDIS ABABA— Thirty-four Ethiopian opposition parties have signed a petition to demand the elections next April - on the district, regional and city levels - be free and fair.
Opposition parties were invited by the Election Board last week to discuss the schedule of the polls. When the parties asked to discuss irregularities that occurred during previous elections, the meeting was adjourned.
Alessa Mengesha, chairman of the Gedeo People’s Democratic Organization opposition party, says several issues need to be discussed in depth.
“We have seen elections in Ethiopia in the past couple of years and decades, and those elections have always been marked by irregularities. And those irregularities include irregularities during voting registration, irregularities during election campaigns, irregularities during vote-counting and even post-election irregularities," he said. "We have witnessed all those.”
Thirty-four of Ethiopia's 75 opposition parties have signed a petition demanding the next vote be free and fair.
The petition lays out 18 points of how the Election Board can ensure a better process. Among other things, the parties say they want to be involved in the election administration, and request equal access to government media.
Asrat Tassie, secretary-general of the Unity for Democracy and Justice party, the only opposition party that holds a seat in parliament, says it is very important that the opposition can freely name and put in place their own election observers.
“A candidate has its own observers. So what happens is they ask the names of those observers 10 days before the election. So as soon as the election board receives the names of those observers, the government harasses them," he said. "Some will be arrested; some will be chased out of the town and so on. So we don’t want to give them the names of our observers.”
European Union observers said the previous election in 2010 fell short of international standards. They said resources of the state were used to support the campaign of ruling party EPRDF, Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front. The ruling party and its allies won all but one seat in the 546-member parliament.
The elections of 2005 resulted in mass demonstrations against the government. Nearly 200 people were killed in election-related violence, and dozens of people, including prominent opposition leaders, are still imprisoned.
The Election Board said it has received the opposition parties' petition but needs more time to respond to the demands.