09/11/09

News – VoA

Ethiopia's Communications Minister Bereket Simon

In Ethiopia, the ruling Ethiopia People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front says it’s unaware that hundreds of opposition members have allegedly been jailed ahead of next year’s election.

Opposition parties accuse the government of jailing at least 450 of their members to prevent them from running as candidates in next May’s general elections.

They say the imprisonment is part of the ruling party’s strategy to claim a landslide victory in the vote — a charge the ruling party denies.

EPRDF spokesman Seku Toure said that the opposition parties have yet to present grievances through established channels.

“We don’t have any information about this. If any party has got any kind of issue regarding this they can present to the EPRDF. We do have a common council of the four negotiating parties. We have agreed to review any kind of allegations and give some kind of remedy for that,” he said.

Toure said the ruling party will support an investigation into the opposition’s imprisonment claims.

“Yes for sure. If you have seen the code of conduct it says that if there are any kinds of allegations, any kind of abuses, all

Ethiopia reportedly struggling under a Marxist military government

political parties including the EPRDF have agreed to investigate and take measures about them,” he said.

Seku said the code of conduct agreed to by all political parties will ensure a level playing field ahead of the elections.

But Bulcha Demekssa of the opposition Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement stands by the allegations that hundreds of opposition members have been jailed.

“The government always denies everything. They even say that there is nobody in prison for political reasons, but this happens every day in rural areas. They put in jail anybody who does not readily join their party or anybody who does not go to their meetings. Anybody who is not buddy- buddy with them goes to jail,” he said.
Bulcha laments the arrests have affected opposition membership.

“As a result everybody now says he is a member of the government, practically everybody and the government claims that they have four million seven hundred thousand members. Of course this kind of membership is not obtained through just persuasion. You can be sure everybody is afraid not to be a member of the government,” he said.

The government says the opposition’s claims are meant to discredit the electoral process, fearful it could lose the 2010 elections.

Political observers surmise the ruling party is poised to easily win next year’s vote despite an expected challenge from a number of lesser-known opposition parties.