Feb 08, 2010

Oromo: Over 150 Oromo Opposition Officials Detained in Ethiopia

Active ImageAt least 150 representatives and members of the opposition party Oromo People's Congress have been arrested in Ethiopia in less than five months


Below is an article published by Jimma Times:

Atleast 150 representatives and members of the opposition party Oromo People's Congress (OPC) have been arrested in Ethiopia in less than five months, according to OPC leader Dr. Merera Gudina, who is also the chairman of Medrek (Ethiopian Federal Democratic Unity Forum), the largest opposition coalition in the country. Dr. Gudina told Jimma Times (JT) the abuses are spreading and the ruling party is trying to force the real opposition out of the upcoming May 2010 election.

"As things stand now, there is no way the coming elections are going to be free and fair" said the opposition leader, but his OPC party will still continue to push ahead to run under the Medrek ticket.

To unify the opposition for the 2010 election, main opposition forces created the Medrek/Forum coalition, which includes Arena Tigray for Democracy and Sovereignty (Arena), Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM) and Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), formerly Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD). In response, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) ruling party signed an election agreement with over 60 pro-government political parties to sideline the opposition. Since then, the security and state media have been accused of disrupting Medrek meetings and televising alleged divisions inside the opposition.

Despite their efforts, the opposition forces remain weak and underfunded. Dr. Gudina, who visited the Diaspora in North America last November, said he was not satisfied with the amount of support his party received from the passive Oromia Diaspora. His OPC party is mostly based in the Shewa regions of Oromia where over 6 million predominantly Orthodox Christian Oromos live. Compared to the support inside Oromia, Dr. Gudina said the Diaspora support was "very little," even though his OPC party needed their financial assistance for "survival."  In July of 2009, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's EPRDF ruling party established a new regulation in public funding for political parties to further cripple the opposition financially. The change of the law forces opposition parties to return the public money they spent for election campaigning if they decide to boycott or withdraw from the election due to human rights abuses. OPC and other opposition groups of the Medrek coalition have demanded the release of dozens of their members, including political prisoner and UDJ chairwoman Judge Birtukan Mideksa.

“This last minute change on the bill was intentionally done so that all the parties, with the intimidation and severe harassment they may suffer, are forced to participate in elections just to keep the ruling party company," added UDJ representative MP Birru.

Many Ethiopians hope for a powersharing deal between Medrek and EPRDF, to end one-party control of the security and government institutions in Ethiopia. But analysts expect Meles Zenawi's ruling party to rigg the 2010 election and share parliament seats with government loyalists or with over 60 parastatal "opposition" parties created by the EPRDF ruling party. The last election in 2005 ended with atleast 200 protesters shot dead by EPRDF security forces after international observers concluded Meles lost the election.