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It is election season in Ethiopia with voters scheduled to go to the polls on May 24, 2015 for the fifth national election since the current government took power. According to figures, a total of 6,000 parliamentary candidates have been fielded by 58 political parties across the country.
Nearly 35 million Ethiopians have registered to cast their votes and the result of the election is set to be announced on June 22, 2015. Capital will be following the election process through different consecutive interviews it will be carrying out with different political parties keeping you updated on the election that has seen the biggest voter participation ever.
The 2015 Ethiopian National Election debutant Semyawi Party (Blue Party) aims to win the 5th round of the election slated for May. The party that was formed three years ago has a large member base of mostly young people that follow a doctrine of moderate liberalism.
The party has budgeted 42 million birr for its campaign which will be carried out to reach people through a variety of means. Capitals’ Tesfaye Getnet sat down with Yonathan Tesfaye, Public Relation Head of Blue Party to discuss the preparations and expectations of the up coming election.
Capital: What was the major reason to form Blue Party?
Yonathan Tesfaye: Our party was established three years ago to give a new political hope for the country. The founding members felt the public has lost interest in the opposition parties’ that content amongst each other, and even felt that the opposition parties were in deep sleep; they look as if they have given up and sat calmly even though there are many political and economic problems Ethiopia is engulfed with.
Giving much emphasis to tackle these quandaries, a few politicians who belonged to a group called ‘Merehe Yekber’, former members of Unity for Democracy and Justice Party (UDJ), as well as members of other opposition parties who wanted to see a new energy in the political field formed the party. The party gained acceptance from citizens and deplomats in a short period of time and has become a big competition for the ruling party.
Capital: Do you have enough candidates to represent the party at all polling stations in the upcoming election?
Yonathan: We have presented 400 candidates to the electoral board, but for unknown reasons, the electoral board rejected 200 of the candidates who were ready to represent Blue Party in South Omo, South Wello, Borenna, West Gojam, and some parts of Addis Ababa.
We asked the electoral board to give us an explanation on the grounds of the rejection but there is still no word. The party will fight until the end to get the candidates approved and will compete in the stations those 200 candidacies were denied. Regarding the representation, we have fully fielded our candidates in all regions of the country except the Somali region where we have one candidate in Jigiiga.
Capital: How well have you prepared for the campaign and what does your budget look like?
Yonathan: We have prepared well for the campaign because it is a big instrument for us to gain more attention and to win the election. In terms of budget, we have allocated 42 million birr for the campaign though it is small. Most of our money comes from membership fees, investors support, and coupon sales starting from 10 birr up to 100 birr. We have not received a penny from the electoral board because our candidates need to be first registered by the board in order to receive financial support.
Currently, we have more than 50,000 members across the country and through them, we have already started campaigning on the radio, internet, broacher, as well as on the streets using loud speakers mounted on cars.
We will start a household advocacy campaign through neighborhood coffee drinking ceremonies, and we will be holding a rally by gathering voters from three woredas at a time in one location. We will also print our official election logo on several items such as pens, t-shirts, cups and so on and also plan to organize at least three big demonstrations.
Capital: Are there any challenges you are facing while organizing your campaign?
Yonathan: Yes. First of all, we are not given enough air time for the media campaign due to the principle of air time allocation, which is based on the number of candidates parties will have. The other problem is that the media censures the messages we would like to convey to the public. So far, we have received six letters from government media institutes telling us to rewrite the stand we have and want to reflect regarding the military’s neutrality , impartiality of the legal system and press freedom.
The police sometimes stop us from campaigning using vehicles until they are ordered by their superiors to leave us alone. Five of our party members are still in jail and one of them is among the candidates for the parliamentary election.
Capital: What type of economic policy will your party follow if it wins the election?
Yonathan: Before I answer that question, I would like to stress on one point. You may draft a good policy, a good economic policy, or a policy that says industry or agriculture will be the propeller of the economy. But, all that means nothing if people do not have the power to decide what’s good for them.
Any government cannot be effective if democracy is not guaranteed and while civil and human rights are not protected. Blue Party firmly believes that the ruling party has denied all of these rights and is trying to lead and develop the country by ignoring peoples’ needs. This system is not good for the country because it only serves those who support the ruling party.
People are required to have affiliation with the ruling party if they want to get into the business sector or when they want a loan from government institutions. The government monopolizes everything-it is the one that decides to give land to establish anything and it holds a very big role in the business sector of the country. Its policies are inconsistent; last years’ policies are changed today. Because of that, the private sector does not have the confidence to invest.
If we win the election, we will follow a moderate liberalism principle with an economy led by the industry, and we will give priority to democratic rights which are necessary for the development of the country. We provide job opportunities to people based on their qualification and skills rather than their political affiliation. We will work with the people to develop the nation; we will create a system that will benefit the public. Step by step, day by day, we, all Ethiopians, will grow together.
Capital: What kind of policy do you have on land tenure?
Yonathan: Our policy regarding land is completely different from EPRDF’s. Our policy guarantees private ownership of land and the owner will have the right to exchange and to sell the land. We have seen many farmers being displaced when foreign investors want the land; entrepreneurs have no confidence in their business because the land they are operating on does not belong to them, so they fear that one day the government might snatch it away.
Blue party doesn’t want to create such kind fear among the people. People will have full right on their land and when the government needs the land for development, it will negotiate with the owners to give it up, and will pay a proper compensation.
Capital: Will you have a different foreign policy?
Yonathan: To some extent, yes. For example, we will make peace with Eretria because the foolish mistakes of the ruling party had coasted us to lose our brothers and sisters. We know that the Eritrean people also need to make peace with Ethiopia. We will work get back the port that used to belong to us. Generally, we will follow a foreign policy that relies on common interest.
Capital: Some UDJ members have joined Blue party. What does that mean to you?
Yonathan: Yes, many UDJ members have joined us because they believe Blue follows the right path to create a better Ethiopia. What they have been doing is astonishing; they gave their former offices to the party and they are doing great campaigning work. We have also taken up some of them as our candidates. For example, we have four former UDJ members running under Blue Party in Addis Ababa. We also have many other former UDJ members on our squad in different regions.
Capital: Do you have any reservations regarding the up coming election?
Yonathan: Like the previous election, our concern is the same. We do not fully trust the electoral board because it always stands to serve the ruling party. We fear that the people are very silent and if the election ends with a wrong result, it could create civil strife that cannot be controlled easily.
Capital: Some scholars suggest that it is better to have one big opposition party rather than having fragmented parties. What do you say about this?
Yonathan: Yes, it is a nice approach, but the ruling party doesn’t want that. When an opposition party starts to become popular, the government chases and jails the party’s politicians. That is what happened to the former Coalition for Unity and Democracy and when other parties come, the same thing happens.
Another obstacle to forming one big opposition party is that the misunderstanding and quarrels that occur between different parties in order to gain supremacy. This happens because most of the members are older in age and have old-fashioned ideas. All these things make it difficult to realize a one party system.
That’s why Blue Party was formed with a large member base of young people that are more flexible and are open to new ideas.
Capital: What will you do if you lose the election?
Yonathan: We are not bothered about winning the election. Our main stand is that people must have leaders that respect their vote. If there is sabotage that affects the results, we will fight through every peaceful means to have the public’s right respected.
What we want above all is a nation without electricity, water, food and housing problems. We want to create a country where human and democratic rights are respectedg