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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 yet.
Following the internal controversy between Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) leaders over financial management, the National Electoral Board has taken legal measures and provided accreditation to the group that was led by Tigistu Awelu. Putting behind the controversy, the party is fully focused on winning some seats in parliament though the number of candidates it has is not enough to form a government. Tigistu Awelu, Chairman of UDJ, has an MA in Education from Addis Ababa University and had been teaching history and language. Tigistu sat down with Capital’s Tesfaye Getnet to share UDJ’s run up to the 5th national election and what choices the party brings for citizens. Excerpts:
Capital: How is UDJ’s election campaign going on?
Tigistu: First of all, Ethiopians managed to reach this point of the 5th round of national election through harsh circumstances. We are doing our campaigning well. We have already stretched a network to do our campaigning well throughout the country. We are campaigning in main cities and in rural areas; we are using horses and mules to reach the population there. We will also stage public meetings and big rallies when the election is approaching.
We are using the airtime that is allocated for parties’ on television and radio, and we have attended all three debates that were organized by Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation.
Our candidates have posted the party’s poster in public venues of different towns and cities where they are contesting, but we are facing challenges from some government cadres’ who do not have the knowledge of what a democratic campaign is. They frequently tear down our posters.
The party’s newspaper ‘Fenote Netsanet’ comes out every week providing critical information to the public and promoting the party’s position and stand on different issues. We also gave some space to other parties to let them present their ideas.
Capital: How many candidates do you have for the election?
Tigistu: We have 80 candidates competing for parliamentary seats and another 150 for regional councils.
Capital: There were quarrels among UDJ members that forced the party to split and your group emerged as a winner. Does the controversy have an influence on UDJ’s election plan?
Tigistu: Yes, due to the split, we couldn’t present enough candidates for parliamentary seats and the electoral board declined to consider the time we wasted to resolve the issue. We had only seven days to recruit candidates and give their list to the electoral board. Other parties had more than 50 days to announce their candidates. Had the board gave us some more time, we could have presented more candidates. And it is the wish of the government to weaken oppositions so that they cannot contest with their full potential. But what I assure citizens is that the split has no impact on our working atmosphere. The party members devote their time and money to bring change for our beloved Ethiopia.
Capital: What is your political ideology?
Tigistu: We are Liberals, which promotes free economy. However, you cannot get the fruits of the ideology automatically. For several years, the political psychology of our people has been corrupted by leaders and to heal that disease, you need time. The healing process is a gradual change because it requires creating awareness in the public. We respect ethnic rights, but based on our view, individuals and citizens’ rights must be the priority to give full guarantee for any type of rights.
Capital: What is your plan to sustain the current economic growth?
Tigistu: We do not need to have an economy that is led by politics. People need not spend big money on food or other necessities. We should really keep growing and our philosophy and guidance to do that is industry-led economy that promotes establishment of small and medium industries in every rural and urban areas to feed the big industries that can have big potential to produce quality materials, and similarly we will work to strengthen the agriculture sector which is a big step to make the country self-sufficient. Our strategy unequivocally states that business people should pay a fair amount of tax. We encourage and give incentives for local investors to invest more, we also appreciate foreign investors but with some limitations, and we do not allow them to take farmers’ land.
Capital: What is your land policy?
Tigistu: We have a uniform land policy. Depending on the situation and current circumstances, land can be owned by individuals, farmers, and investors but with limitations because if land is given infinitely, we cannot benefit the society equally. We will have lands that are owned by the government for different kinds of developmental activities. For example, we will build economical houses on the state owned land and we will rent them to citizens until the time they are able to have their own house. We will also embrace a communal land ownership system if that is appropriate for the economy. So employing all the three systems jointly can elevate the land problem.
Capital: Will you have a different foreign policy than the one EPDRF is following?
Tigistu: Absolutely! Because we are not in good terms with neighboring countries, UDJ needs to change that. For example, the suspended diplomatic relation between Ethiopia and Eritrea is not the problem of the two people, it is the result of the fracas between the two ruling parties of the nations. UDJ will solve this problem and will create a situation that benefits the economies of both countries. In general, the way we relate with our neighbors respects the interest of our people and international laws.
Capital: UDJ drifted out from Medrek but some people suggest that it is better to have one big opposition party to contest in the election than many fragmented parties. What is your opinion about that?
Tigistu: Of course, it is better to have one big party but many of the opposition parties don’t want that as most of them are formed on ethnic based backgrounds; they prioritize their ethnics interest than their country’s interest. Due to this and lack of tolerance to others views, forming a harmonious, one big party is difficult at this time. Most opposition parties get into work only when elections approach and want to hold the power with short preparations and that makes the public lose interest in them.
Capital: Do you have any fears regarding the upcoming election?
Tigistu: Yes, especially with EPRDF because some of its cadres terrorize our members, broke into our offices and closed them down. EPRDF tells the public that opposition parties did not have enough candidates to form a government if they win the election, but what we want to say is that even though EPRDF has many candidates, it may not get enough votes to run the country. And this could lead the nation to form a coalition government and EPRDF should also expect that scenario.
I also want to inform the public not to be terrorized by the government’s propaganda and to give their votes to the party they believe in. I want to say, “let’s make this election a fair and free election, where a government chosen by the people rules the nation”.