Eight Ethiopian opposition parties and two prominent independent
politicians are joining forces to try to unseat Prime Minister Meles
Zenawi's government in next year's elections. But the coalition is
complaining they have no chance under current rules.
2010 election campaign roared to life this week as the ruling Ethiopian
People's Revolutionary Democratic Front chose Prime Minister Meles as
its leader for another five years. The EPRDF has held power since its
forerunner, the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front ousted a Marxist
dictator in a bloodless coup 18 years ago.
analysts say the decision of the ruling party's central committee
practically ensures Mr. Meles will remain in office through 2015.
a collection of opposition groups, joined by two of Mr. Meles's former
close allies, is demanding changes in the electoral rules to ensure the
vote is fair. The coalition, calling itself the Forum for Democratic
Dialogue, is asking for measures to ensure the impartiality of the
electoral commission, greater access to the state-run media, and the
presence of international observers.
Beyene Petros leads one
faction of the Forum. He points to local council elections held last
year, in which opposition candidates won only three of more than
three-and-one-half-million contested seats, as evidence of the lack of
a level playing field.
"We have [the] bitter experience of last
year's local and bi-elections where the opposition parties were totally
blocked from fielding candidates, and doing their constitutional
privilege of conducting campaign within the population," he said. "So
we have challenged [the] ruling party to negotiate the upcoming
Another Forum member, Bulcha Demeksa, a
leader of a party representing Ethiopia's largest ethnic group, the
Oromos, said EPRDF officials are arresting opposition politicians and
producing, what he says are, fake documents linking them to outlawed
Oromo rebel groups.
"EPRDF cadres ... simply find all kinds of
excuses to put people in jail," he said. "One of the most interesting
ways is when they go to search the house of a potential candidate, they
take with them a piece of paper that incriminates the gentleman they
are going to search. And that becomes the basis of incrimination. We
are asking the government, please, if you are going to conduct free and
fair election, do not do this."
Negasso Gidada was once part of
the the EPRDF inner circle. He was Ethiopia's first president under
the current constitution, but resigned in a dispute with the ruling
party leadership in 2001, and is now an independent member of
parliament. He says revolutionary democracy is a cover for
"The major issue is the ideology which EPRDF
follows," he said. "EPRDF from its name is a so-called revolutionary
democracy, which is actually a concept of Marxist-Leninist, which was
formulated by Lenin, is following that. It is a one party dictatorship
and our forum is totally against this and is a liberal democratic,
free-market oriented policy."
EPRDF spokesman Hailemariam
Dessalegn scoffed at Negasso's charges, saying his record as president
had shown him to be neither a liberal nor a democrat. He said the
ruling party is committed to free-market economic principles, but said
the government has had to intervene in cases where markets have failed.
also rejected charges that election rules favor the ruling party. He
said all parties in parliament had approved the members of the National
Election Board. And he denied any intimidation of potential candidates
is taking place.
A round of talks between the ruling party and
opposition groups is set for Saturday on a code of conduct for the
elections. Members of the Forum for Democratic Dialogue say they will
not participate unless the talks are broadened to include electoral
Ruling party spokesman Hailemarian says the
talks will go on with or without the Forum. He says the Forum
represents only a handful of Ethiopia's 91 registered opposition