ADDIS ABABA - Almost 37 million Ethiopians can vote this Sunday (May 24) in the country's national election.
Fifty-eight political parties are contesting the election and it is widely expected that the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front party (EPRDF), which has been in power since 1991, will win the vote. But opposition parties and their members, such as the Blue Party, are still campaigning. Twenty-three-year-old art student Luel Damtew is one of them.
“The current government oppose another parties, its monopoly. Socially, politically and also religious[ly]. So I am so annoyed, so I will join to Blue Party,” he said.
Eight big trucks drive through every neighborhood in the capital, Addis Ababa. The dozens of Blue Party supporters, mostly in their twenties and thirties, are standing on those trucks while giving flyers to passers-by, or to those standing in line for taxis.
When the Blue Party encounters a ruling party truck, it seems they are competing over who has the loudest sound system, each blasting campaign slogans and Ethiopian music.
Standing on a truck and waving a flag with the party’s symbol of three circles is 28-year-old Blue Party volunteer Ephraim Sahleselassie. He says he knows his party will not win the elections.
“Joseph Stalin, the Russian leader once said that it’s not the votes which decide, it is the person who counts that vote. So in this case I have my own worries. I have many doubts about the fairness of this elections,” he said.
The ruling party won the last Ethiopian elections in 2010 with all but one seat in parliament.
Despite government claims these elections will be free and fair, most opposition parties have accused the government of harassing and intimidating their members.
Human rights organizations have frequently criticized Ethiopia for repressing dissenting voices.
Negist Wondyifraw is a 26-year-old housewife who joined the opposition party two years ago. She helps with public relations and organizing events because she opposes the government’s policy.
She says the ruling party’s ethnic based politics are her main problem because they are racist.
Ethiopia’s federal system is divided into nine regional states based on ethnicity.
The Blue Party, or semayawi in Amharic, runs on the ideology of the liberal democracy. They are against the current ethnic federal system, saying that the ethnicity is used and the system does not include everyone.
Semayawi is Ethiopia's youngest party, formed in 2012. Although the party had registered 400 candidates for the national elections, the national electoral board rejected 260 candidates, including their party leader. The board explained that the registered candidates were also members of another party, which is against the national electoral board’s regulation.