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Defeated Ethiopian Opposition Party Reaches Out to Government

The Ethiopian Democratic Party, which was once the most active opposition party in the country's parliament, conceded defeat today, as it appears to have lost all of its seats in the recent election. Party leaders say they want to work with the government to build an election process that allows room for genuine competition.

One of the leaders of the Ethiopian Democratic Party, Mesifin Mengistu, sunk his head into his hands while a party spokesperson read a statement.

The statement says the ruling party marginalized the opposition in recent elections by ordering low-level cadres to secure a win, "by any means possible." As a result, the statement claims, voters were pressured, harassed and intimidated. But unlike Ethiopia's other two leading opposition parties, the EDP is not calling for new elections.

Early results show the ruling party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, took 90 percent of the parliament, and all but swept the capital.

After the win, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi reached out to opposition parties, saying his government will work with them in developing future policies.

"People went out of their way to ensure peace and tranquility," said Meles Zenawi. "Not just those who voted for us, but those who voted against us. So we are reaching out to those who voted for the opposition more than reaching out to the opposition itself."

After the last elections in 2005, protesters took to the streets, claiming fraud. Nearly 200 people were killed and more than 100 activists, journalists and politicians were arrested. Most were pardoned two years later, but many remain in jail or live in exile.

EDP leaders said they want to work with the ruling party to develop a new system for elections. That is, says EDP leader Lidetu Ayalew, if the government is honest in its commitment to remain a multi-party state.

"If there is a negotiation between opposition parties and the ruling party, the first thing that we are trying to see is if the government is willing to bring tangible changes in this country," said Lidetu Ayalew. "In the bottom of his heart, we have to be sure of that."

Mesifin, another EDP leader, says they want to change they way votes are counted and reform campaign finance. At the moment, he says, the election system favors the ruling party, and state-run television devotes far more time to covering the EPRDF than opposition parties.

"This is a very big country, but it only has only one channel of national TV," he said. "This is amazing. It is very amazing. Why is that?"

Mr. Meles says Ethiopia is and will remain a multi-party state, even though the government is dominated by the EPRDF.

"We have no regrets, and we offer no apologies," he said. "Next time around we may loose part or all of our seats, nobody knows. But there is no possibility of a single party system emerging in Ethiopia."

Ethiopia's two other leading opposition parties, the All Ethiopia Unity Party and Medrek, condemned the process last week and called for a new vote. They accused the ruling party of harassing, intimidating and tricking voters. Other opposition parties are expected to soon follow their lead.