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National Electoral Board of Ethiopia faces difficult time with opposition parties as election nears

Ethiopia’s main opposition parties are having a tumultuous relationship with the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) in the run up to the 24 May 2015 general elections. This has led to some of the opposition parties saying they will not take part in the vote, citing unfair playing ground.

On January 6, 2015 NEBE wrote a letter to Blue party, demanding an apology for engaging on ‘unconstructive behavior’ since the day of its establishment. In a letter sent back to the board on January 12, 2015, the Blue party rejected NEBE’s demand for apology calling it ‘illegal’, and further to accuse the Board of ‘intentionally accusing’ the party. Unity for Democracy and Justice Party (UDJ) and All Ethiopian Unity Party (AEUP) have received various warnings at different times from NEBE, asking them to fix their internal ‘problems.’

However, UDJ and AEUP have accused the Board of interfering in their respective internal matters and working to exclude them from the upcoming national election. AEUP was particularly unhappy with NEBE’s recent call for the party to conduct a third general members meeting to fix alleged internal problems, with the Party’s President Mamushet Amare saying NEBE had a mission “to exclude AEUP from the election.” UDJ’s public relations head Asrat Tase has also accused ‘NEBE of having a mission to destroy’ his party.

It is not only alleged interference with internal matters that the opposition parties have a grudge to pick with NEBE. They have termed the public observers’ election process as ‘unfair,’ having taken place without their proper observation “due to NEBE’s “‘deliberate’ action to favor the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Force (EPRDF).”

The public observers’ election took place on December 21, 2014 and a day after, the nine opposition parties’ partnership that includes Blue party and AEUP, accused the ruling EPRDF of interfering with NEBE’s work. In a press statement issued on January 3, 2015, the Ethiopian Federal Democratic Unity Forum (Medrek), a coalition of four opposition parties, called for the cancellation and re-election of public observers. “The public observers election was not publicized to the public so that the public could vote” Merera Gudina (PhD), Medrek’s head of external affairs, said.

This bumpy relationship between NEBE and prominent opposition parties has led to some of them saying they are not sure whether to take part on the actual election date on May 24, 2015. According to a local newspaper Addis-Admas, Blue Party, AEUP and the Medrek coalition said the political space is still very tight, and demanded the government to make it free and fair election to take place. If this does not happen, they threatened to withdraw from the actual election date.

However, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegne has called for collaborated participation of all parties towards the success of the 2015 national election. In a press release to local journalists issued on December 24, 2014, he characterized opposition parties to three groups: parties that fully, partially, and never respect the rules and regulations of the country.

In countries like Ethiopia where, the government and ruling party’s role in governance is not clearly distinguished, the PM’s characterization of opposition parties and his pledge to punish some pose concern among the prominent opposition parties that the government would aggressively act against them to the best interest of the ruling party. On January 16,2015, UDJ claimed EPRDF had reached at ‘an internal consensus’ to impose systematic obstacles on the party in order to exclude it from taking part on the election process.

Contrarily, EPRDF posted a status update on its official Facebook page on January 10, 2015 saying that the ruling party will play its role to make the upcoming election process ‘peaceful, democratic, fair, free and credible to the public’. The Government Communications Affairs Office (GCAO) also told local press on January 15, 2015 that the government is already engaged to make sure the upcoming election process is peaceful, fair and credible in the eyes of everyone. Deputy Minister Ewnetu Blata said international standard election regulations are set to make sure this year’s election is peaceful and fair.

Nevertheless, conflict between NEBE, prominent opposition parties and the ruling party is expected to reach its climax as the actual election date approaches.