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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.
This is the second time for the Ethiopian Federal Democratic Unity Forum (Medrek) to contest in a national election. The party was founded in 2008 by a coalition of parties, namely, The United Ethiopian Democratic Front, Oromo Federalist Congress, Somali Democratic Alliance Forces, and Aerna Tigray for Democracy and Sovereignty.
Gebru Gebremariam, General Secretary of the party, who was former Chief Protocol of Arkebe Oqubay when he was the mayor of Addis Ababa, is confident that the party’s policy is the best remedy for Ethiopia’s political, economic and societal problems. Gebru, who has hold MA degree in Public Administration and Development Management from Addis Ababa University sat down with Capitals’ Tesfaye Getnet to share a picture of Medrek’s run up to the 5th national election and what choices the party policy brings to citizens. Excerpts:
Capital: How’s Medrek’s campaign going?
Gebru Gebremariam: Well, we are doing our best to familiarize our policy to the people and encouraging the public to participate in the coming election. We have air time allocated by the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority on different state media, for example, on Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation and on Fana Broadcasting Corporate, even though, these media reject few of our manifestos on certain issues. We are also bullied by the ruling party, we’re intimidated, harassed, and our offices will be closed down all of a sudden. For example, some days ago security officers broke into our office in Dende Wereda in Ginche, Oromia Regional State, where I am contesting, for no reason.
Capital: How many candidates you fielded for the parliament and regional council seats?
Gebru: We have over 300 candidates competing for parliament or the House of People’s Representatives and over 883 candidates competing for regional councils.
Capital: How much money are you planning to spend for your campaign?
Gebru: We do not have sufficient funds and I cannot give you the exact figures. We do not get a grant for campaigns like Barack Obama and John McCain because this is a poor country where party members do not contribute a substantial money, not because they are indifferent but because they have limited capacity. And the public does not contribute money for opposition parties because they are afraid of the government. But we are doing our best with the limited fund we have. For example, recently we have spent 97,000 birr to train 150 Oromo Federalist Congress candidates on campaigning principles.
Capital: Do you have any fears regarding the coming election?
Gebru: EPRDF is fearful that it will be defeated in this election, and that is why security people harassed opposition parties and imprison opposition politicians. EPRDF is very much afraid of the public because their false propaganda does not appeal to the public, and the public had deserted them because of that. Our fear is that the electoral board would not be impartial and the government may use power improperly as usual, and they have already started doing that.
Capital: What policy alternatives will you present to the public?
Gebru: We have prepared our own policies that can alleviate the deep-rooted problems of the country. We have designed good policy to create more jobs for the jobless; we have designed a good education policy to revamp the education quality that had been deteriorating for the last 23 years; we have a policy to properly handle the exodus of Ethiopians to Arab countries; we also have a policy concerning national heritages, social security, poverty reduction, industry development and health. We have more policies that touches upon everyone’s lives.
Capital: What change will you bring for the business community if you take power?
Gebru: The business community is the most beneficiary segment of the society if we win the election. Businesses create more job opportunities than the state and we don’t want to charge unimaginable taxes like the ruling party impose on the business community. We have seen many times that the government charges businesses hefty taxes under many pretexts that business owners’ confidence shrinks and that erodes the psychological strength of these people so that they cannot be a good player in their respective businesses. And surely, Medrek will abolish all these unnecessary bottlenecks and will give the business community a new breath that can boost their confidence.
Capital: What is your political ideology?
Gebru: We are Centrist. We don’t belong in neither of the two extreme positions-Social Democrat or Liberal Democrat, and we don’t interpret any ideology as it is. Look how Derg is stereotyped because it interpreted Marxism as it is, without figuring out things that could be very helpful for our culture, to our level of intelligence and to our varied ethnic relations. And the reason we follow centrism is we don’t want to repeat the mistakes that were made before.
Capital: Some political parties faced segmentation in due course of time, but scholars suggested that it is better for opposition parties to contest under one strong party than as many small parties. What do you say about that?
Gebru: The segmentation does not apply to Medrek. But, in general, due to lack of tolerance, frankness in dealing with political matters and having great intolerance to ideological differences, opposition parties failed to go further and contest with the one strong party that understand the current social, cultural and political situation.
There are people who still boast of what their grandfathers had accomplished of, there are people who do not see the reality of today, and some parties do not have strong pillars and do not make enough preparation. They come with a weak attitude and gave up easily in the campaign, and I have seen that the long hands of EPRDF easily penetrates on these parties and dismantle them easily.
Let me give you one example. There was one Somali member in Mederk. He left the party and after several days I met him in another place. I asked him to tell me the reason of his departure and he said, “The Amhara insulted me.’’ I said to him why don’t you confront him and tell him not to insult you. What we understand from this point is that the tolerance and the strength we have to fight for our freedom is so weak.
Capital: What does your foreign policy look like?
Gebru: Our foreign policy respects the dignity of the country. For example, we will start a new negotiation with the Eritrean government to null out the Algiers Agreement and to claim back the Asaab port. Giving up the port was a grave mistake EPRDF had committed that made Ethiopia to be a land locked country. Such a mistake has not ever been made by any kingdom in the world. And we will make a peaceful and cooperative relationship with neighboring countries in particular, and with other countries in general based on international conventions and agreements.
Capital: What will you do if you lose the election?
Gebru: If we win and people’s voice is denied by the government, or because of the impartiality of the electoral board, we will appeal to the concerned government body, though we do not have much trust on them. Don’t expect us to become rebels and call the government to fight us like Ginbot 7. We don’t want to teach our children a bullet and gun theory. Our way is always to follow a peaceful struggle to fight against the undemocratic ruling party.
Capital: Any last words you would like to add?
Gebru: Yes. It would have been better that foreign observers would participate in the election because it makes the election more credible. However, it does not mean that a fair election cannot be carried out without them. What I want to say to the ruling party is to make the election free, fair and participatory and not to use guns. Let’s not terrorize each other, let’s work to make Ethiopia a peaceful and developed country by working together.