By BEREKET DIRIBA, Correspondent MAY 21, 2015
As the first ballot without the name of the late PM Meles Zenawi, this year’s election could be trying a ruling front that is going through a lot these past years. Earlier in 2014, riots had reportedly shaken many parts of the country. The student movements in Western Oromia region, and the ongoing discontent of the Muslim community on the alleged government involvement in their internal affairs, may cost the ruling front some of its votes in parts of the nation.
The public support witnessed for the Oromo Federalist Congress, a major part of the MEDREK coalition, moved the Ethiopian Prime Minister and chairman of the Revolutionary Democrats into seeking the support of the Western Oromia regions. On the week before Election Day, the PM was seen busy pledging more infrastructural development, as well as promising to improve good governance in those regions. One of these major opposition strongholds, Ambo town, was visited by the Prime Minister for the first time in 25 years.
But Merera Gudina (PhD), a leader in the opposition MEDREK, said his party is to win the majority voice in Oromia if the ruling party plays fair in the elections.
Dr. Merera is running for Parliament in his home town Guder, capital of Toke Kutaye district. Even though he secured the majority support among the youth, many of them have not received election cards.
“We know that our youths and teachers were intentionally denied election cards by the government, but we are mobilizing them to make waves and keep their parents aware of the latest developments,” he said. “We are working to create a generation that will defend its right.”
MEDREK, or the Social Democrats, also claim to have strong support in most of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s regions.
“We have strong support in Gamo Gofa, Kembata, Hadiya and Sidama zones of the Southern Nations region”, said Tilahun Endeshaw, Vice-Chairman and Public Relations Head at MEDREK.
The Social Democrats have 270 Parliament candidates running for this election. Their coalition will be running in Tigray, Southern Nations region, Oromia and in the capital Addis Ababa. They are represented by Arena Tigray, an opposition group in the Tigray region where the ruling TPLF is dominant. But with the seasoned members of Andinet party discharged from the election by the Electoral Board, their coalition apparently lost strong representatives in the Amhara region.
“Still we will win the majority vote in the remaining constituencies where we have major support of the people, both in urban and rural areas,” said Endeshaw.
The MEDREK leader bitterly blames the government for repressions in many areas. He said his party members in southern parts of the country were persecuted, including in Kambata Zone, where there were members whose lands were confiscated in the run up to the election. He told Gizeyat, “As we approach the Election Day these pressures seem to ease for the time, but our campaigns are still under attack by ruling-party cadres.”
“Like all other government institutions the electoral board is in favor of the government. It’s not free and I doubt how such institution could be entrusted to hold free and fair elections,” — Sileshi Feyisa
Many leaders from opposition parties are accusing the government of sabotaging their campaigns and activities.
Sileshi Feyisa, Vice-chairman of the Moderate Liberals, Semayawi Party, said his party has been facing persecutions from the ruling front’s adminstration throughout the election process. He said with few days to go to the polls, the government still tries to terrorize his party members and is engaged in defamation.
On May 16, the Ethiopian Federal Police Commissioner, General Assefa Abiyu, vowed to repel any demonstrations in post-election days. The Ethiopian special police forces were also seen on the national television preparing for events that might unfold in the coming days. During his televised statement, the Commissioner General publicly accused some political parties — referring them as anti-peace forces — for their involvement in destructing infrastructure, like electric poles and telecom fibers.
“The Commissioner’s statement is provocative and implied that the security forces are not impartial. It’s an indication of a pending crack down on us,” said Feyisa.
The Moderate Liberals leader highly doubts the impartiality of the electoral board. “Like all other government institutions the electoral board is in favor of the government. It’s not free and I doubt how such institution could be entrusted to hold free and fair elections,” said Feyisa.
Semayawi party is one of the favorite opposition parties expected by many to become a fierce contender to the ruling front in this year’s general elections.
Over 120 Parliament candidates will represent the Moderate Liberals in this election.
The reformist opposition Raie Party leader as well put the blame on the government for the imprisonment of some of his candidates, and the frequent attacks on his party’s election banners and posters. Yet, he is hopeful that after two elections this one will be his chance to join the Parliament.
The Ethiopian Electoral Board however, denies these allegations.
“The candidates registration and campaigns are all going well, except for few groups that contradict the ethical codes of political parties,” said Demissew Benti, Public Relations Director at the Electoral Board.
Benti especially accused Semayawi Party for engaging in destructive activities.
Fifty-eight political parties will be running to get the electorates’ vote for the House of People’s Representatives, Regional Councils and two City Administrations seats. In addition, nine individual candidates will run on the May 24th elections, six of them for seats in the House of People’s Representatives. Despite speculations that the famous Olympics and world champion athlete Haile Gebreselassie could run for the Parliament seat — following his announcement to join politics two years ago and recent retirement from athletics — Benti said the Electoral Board has no such candidate.
The former Ethiopian Football Federation president and current Member of Parliament, Ashebir Wolde Giorgis (PhD), is one of the major figures among the independent candidates. He will run in Bonga town, Southern Nations region.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, civil societies and 59 African Union observers will monitor this year’s national elections. Western observers however, chose to opt out.
Correction: We erroneously reported MP Ashebir Wolde Giorgis (PhD) will run in Gamo Gofa Zone of the Southern Nations region. However, it has come to our attention that Mr. Wolde Giorgis will actually run in Bonga town, Southern Nations region. We regret the errors.