(Reuters) – Ethiopians vote on Sunday in the first election since a disputed 2005 poll. Voters in sub-Saharan Africa’s second most populous nation will be electing 537 parliamentarians.
Here are some facts about the opposition in Ethiopia:
MEDREK, OR THE FORUM
* Eight parties formed a coalition for the elections under the name Medrek — the Forum — while retaining their own structures and leaders. With 421 candidates, Medrek is running enough candidates to win a majority in the 537-seat parliament.
* Medrek says its candidates have been subject to harassment, intimidation and jailing since the campaign began and have accused the government of killing three members. The government says Medrek is intent on provoking violence and that its members killed a ruling party candidate and a policeman.
* With so many different parties onboard, Medrek has fought the campaign with a very limited policy platform, seemingly united only in one thing: opposition to the government. This has frustrated some Ethiopians during election debates involving all the major parties that have been screened on state television.
* Key policies which Medrek has agreed upon include: allowing private ownership of land for the first time in Ethiopian history, negotiating with Eritrea for access to one of its ports and a re-examination of relations with the West.
* Medrek is made up of parties representing all of Ethiopia’s major ethnic groups — something considered unusual in a country where parties are often formed, and people consequently vote, along ethnic lines.
* Its symbol is a waving hand while the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) is represented by a bee. Ethiopians have written songs about whether or not they will “choose the hand” or “vote for the bee.”
* Medrek has three prominent ruling party defectors in its ranks — former President Negaso Gidada, former Defence Minister Seye Abraha and former regional President Gebru Asrat. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi says they do not worry him and has called them “just a sprinkling of new spices” for the opposition.
OTHER PARTIES, WHAT HAPPENED IN 2005
* Parties outside the Medrek coalition include the All Ethiopia Unity Organisation (AEUO) and the Ethiopian Democratic Party (EDP). Both are in parliament and have campaigned aggressively outside Addis Ababa. EDP leader, Lidetu Ayelu, impressed in the election debates and published a best-selling book outlining his political beliefs as campaigning began.
* The AEUO has 350 candidates and the EDP will run 250.
* Several ethnicity-based rebel groups operate in the vast country, notably the Ogaden National Liberation Front and the Oromo Liberation Front. Opposition parties say the rebels are used as an excuse to arrest politicians.
* A group of parties called the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) led the opposition in 2005. When the government declared victory, they said the result was fixed and street protests broke out in the capital.
* Security forces killed 193 people and seven policemen were killed. CUD leaders were jailed, accused of inciting the violence to force an “unconstitutional change” of government.
* The opposition leaders were pardoned in 2007 but the CUD broke up soon afterwards. One of its leaders, the popular Birtukan Mideksa, formed the Unity for Democracy and Justice party (now part of Medrek), but was sent back to prison after the government said she had violated the terms of the pardon.
* Three opposition parties agreed a code of conduct with the ruling EPRDF, but Medrek refused to participate in the talks, demanding bi-lateral negotiations on issues it said were left out, including reform of the electoral board.