ADDIS ABABA —
Ethiopian opposition parties say they are facing roadblocks in their efforts to register for the May elections. The parties say the National Election Board is complicating procedures for no good reason, and raising doubt that the elections will be free or fair.
The Unity for Democracy and Justice party has the only opposition member in Ethiopia's 547-seat parliament. But it is unclear if the party will be allowed to participate in the May elections, as the National Election Board has rejected UDJ logos.
Wondimu Golla of the National Election Board said it was not about the logos, but about procedural rules.
“According to their bylaws it says, the president of the party shall be nominated or elected by the general assembly. But they nominate by some few persons, the high officials there. So we oppose this. They have to strictly follow the bylaws, their own bylaws,” said Golla.
The National Election Board has given UDJ two weeks to organize a general assembly, and if its conduct is approved the party will be allowed to participate in the May elections. But the UDJ has decided to not hold another general assembly.
UDJ vice chairman Girma Seifu -- the only member of parliament not affiliated with Ethiopia's ruling party -- said the election board's actions were not justified.
“They do not have any legal ground or moral ground or administrative guideline to do these things. Because this is just an interference just to put a block on our active participation in the election,” said Seifu.
Voter registration in Ethiopia began last week and up to 60 parties may run for seats in the upcoming elections.
The Blue Party, formed in 2012, will be contesting elections for the first time. Blue Party chairman Yilkal Getnet said he was pessimistic about the elections as the party has repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to work with the election board on certain issues.
"They are reluctant, and they did not give us any positive report or signs to improve these things. We did not get any signs that improve the political climate. Now for the coming elections to be free and fair we need to discuss about the political climate, to have a free media, to have international observers to observe the election, and including the budget sharing systems, and so on,” said Getnet.
During the 2005 elections opposition parties won about a third of the seats, but accusations of vote rigging led to mass demonstrations in which at least 200 protesters died and thousands were arrested.
The ruling Ethiopia’s Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front has been in power since the overthrow of the military junta in 1991.