2005 - Elections
Opposition candidates won 12 seats in national parliamentary elections in 2000. The next national elections were held in May 2005. Ethiopia held the most free and fair national campaign period in the country's history prior to May 15, 2005 elections. Unfortunately, electoral irregularities and tense campaign rhetoric resulted in a protracted election complaints review process. Public protests turned violent in June 2005. The National Electoral Board released final results in September 2005, with the opposition taking over 170 of the 547 parliamentary seats and 137 of the 138 seats for the Addis Ababa municipal council. Opposition parties called for a boycott of parliament and civil disobedience to protest the election results. In November 2005, Ethiopian security forces responded to public protests by arresting scores of opposition leaders, as well as journalists and human rights advocates, and detaining tens of thousands of civilians in rural detention camps for up to three months. Disputes over the results triggered protests and led to violence that killed some 200 people.
Ethiopia's ruling EPRDF party imposed greater and greater restrictions on the media and political opponents since the 2005 elections, when the opposition made substantial gains and challenged the ruling party's hold on politics. In December 2005, the government charged 131 opposition, media, and civil society leaders with capital offenses including "outrages against the constitution." Key opposition leaders and almost all of the 131 were pardoned and released from prison 18 months later.
As of March 2008, approximately 150 of the elected opposition members of parliament had taken their seats and currently remain in parliament. Ruling and opposition parties have engaged in little dialogue since the opposition leaders were freed. Government harassment made it very difficult for opposition candidates to compete in local elections in April 2008. As a result, the ruling party won more than 99% of the local seats throughout Ethiopia.
In June 2008, former CUD vice-chairman Birtukan Mideksa was elected the party chairman of the new Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) party at its inaugural session in Addis Ababa. In October 2008 the Ethiopian Government arrested over 100 Oromo leaders, accusing some of being members of the outlawed Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). At the end of December 2008, after detaining Birtukan several times briefly during the month, the government re-arrested her, saying that she had violated the conditions of her pardon (she was one of the prominent opposition leaders pardoned by the government in the summer of 2007). Her original sentence of life imprisonment was reinstated.
In April 2009 the Ethiopian Government arrested 40 individuals, mostly Amhara military or ex-military members allegedly affiliated with Ginbot 7, an external opposition party, for their suspected involvement in a terrorist assassination plot of government leaders. This party was founded in May 2008 in the United States by Berhanu Nega, one of the opposition leaders in the 2005 elections, and advocates for change in the government "by any means." In August 2009, the Federal High Court found 13 of the defendants guilty in absentia and one not guilty in absentia. In November 2009, the court found another 27 guilty and is seeking the death penalty for all 40 defendants.
The political scene saw significant changes since the previous elections, following splits, mergers, and the emergence of new parties. Among the opposition parties, the Forum for Democratic Dialogue coalition (Medrek), presented the largest number of candidates - 421, followed by the All Ethiopian Unity Organisation (AEUO) with 319 and the Ethiopian Democratic Party (EDP) with 230 candidates to the House of People's Representatives (HPR). The fragmentation of the main opposition forces in the aftermath of the 2005 elections, together with the departure of important opposition figures from the Ethiopian political scene, in conjunction with changes to the legal framework resulted in a cumulative narrowing of the political space within the country.
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