Ethiopian parties present common 2010 poll manifesto

Ethiopian students wait in line at a polling station in 2005
Ethiopian students wait in line at a polling station in 2005

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA (AFP)— A coalition of Ethiopian opposition parties on Saturday presented a common manifesto and said they will field joint candidates in next year’s general elections.

The Forum for Democracy and Dialogue, an amalgam of eight parties, unveiled their 65-page manifesto in Addis Ababa, as it begins a bid to unseat Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who has been in power since 1991.

“We have agreed to move this country forward. For the last 150 years, political change has only come through the barrel of the gun. We want to break that tradition and change power through the ballot box,” said one of its leaders, Gesachew Shiferaw.

Shiferaw said the manifesto is based on the programmes of all eight parties.

“We hope on that basis to be able to lead in unity.”

The coalition chairman Merara Gudina said the new forum mirrored “Ethiopia’s multi-ethnic composition” with representatives from Tigray to the Somali border.

Meles’ former rebel Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has long been portrayed as dominated by people from the Tigray region since it swept the dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam from power in 1991.

The new coalition has appealed to the government “to negotiate genuinely with us on the modalities of the coming elections” that should be “free, fair and transparent” and monitored by observers from the European union, Merara continued.

The forum, or Medrek as it is known in Amharic, has called for the “release of political prisoners”, notably Birtukan Mideksa, an opposition leader jailed since December, Merara said.

The forum said last month that almost 200 of its supporters had been arrested amid what it called a campaign of government harassment.

The issue currently blocking talks between the government and Medrek is the drawing up of rules governing the conduct of the electoral campaign.

Meles’ government, concerned about its image, has put in place mechanisms designed to ensure all parties enjoy equal access to state media and public funding.

Meles also said last month that international observers would likely be invited for the polls.

At least 200 people were killed when police brutally repressed riots after the opposition refused to accept Meles’ victory in the last elections in 2005.