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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.
Capital: How is the campaign going?
Wondwossen Teshome: We embarked on the campaign with many obstacles, which are instigated by the ruling party and the media who are its accomplices, on our back. Some media institutions, for example, Fana FM 98.1, Zami 90.7 FM, and Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation had refused to air our manifesto. This act is against the constitutional right. Despite the challenges, we keep on with the campaign using available media spaces and broachers. Starting from Monday, we go on a campaign tour to regional cities. And we will distribute pamphlets to the public intensively.
Capital: How much money did the party budgeted for the campaign?
Wondwossen: I cannot tell you the exact figure because it comes from different sources. We have received around 800,000 birr from the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) but it is too small to cover the expenses for the campaign, but thanks to our members especially those who live abroad particularly in England, we’re able to do the campaign due to the continuous financial support. Without their support, EDP might not push ahead with the campaign. The fund we raised locally is too small because of two reasons. The first one is due to members’ limited financial capacity and the second due to fear to contribute money.
Capital: How many candidates have you fielded for national and Regional Council seats?
Wondwossen: We have presented 280 candidates for parliament, which is enough to form a government if all can win, and 200 for Regional Councils.
Capital: What is your political ideology?
Wondwossen: Our ideology is Liberal Democracy, which is the best remedy of Ethiopia’s social and economic problems. Some groups say that liberal democracy is a form of white capitalism and they assume it stands for the rich and business people, but it doesn’t. This ideology gained greater acceptance since the 1920s that attempts to understand exactly the circumstances of any given country. Among the 27 parties that are guided by Liberal democracy in Africa, EDP is one of the strongest. We have hosted an East Africa Liberal Parties conference that was held in Addis in June 2014. We also participated in a number of global conferences that revolve around liberal democracy representing Ethiopia.
Capital: What is your land policy like?
Wondwossen: Our land policy has a three-pronged approach to this issue, namely, private, government, and communal ownership forms. For long years, the farmers of Ethiopia were denied from having exclusive rights on their land and due to this they weren’t encouraged to produce more. And we want to create that confidence in them. Under the private ownership plan, we give land, which is not occupied by farmers or other proprietor to investors. In nomadic areas, the land is committed to communal ownership but we will give it to members of the community when they transform into sedentary form of living and want to work on the land permanently.
Capital: What is your say on industry and agriculture?
Wondwossen: We don’t separate industry from agriculture, but priority should be given to modernize agriculture and we also wish to augment industrial development. Our policy gives great emphasis to small enterprises because these sectors are catalysts to create big and large industries. I’m sure this strategic approach can creates more job opportunity, reduces imported goods, and increases export.
Capital: What is your trade policy?
Wondwossen: There will be some things that we will change. For example, we will remove VAT levied on basic consumption goods, and we will remove the multiple VAT that is levied on one product. The government in power charges taxes that are over inflated corresponding to the real transaction. On the other hand, it is common knowledge that there are business people who are left aside and do not pay tax. This discourages the tax-paying business people and EDP will fight to resolve the problem if it is elected.
Capital: Why does EDP prefer to run in the election on its own instead of forming a coalition with another party?
Wondwossen: Forming one big party is a mistake that we made in the 2005 election and that mistake cost us a lot. When we merged with Unity for Democracy and Justice and other parties, we did not study well the ideas and structure of the parties. Anyhow, we do not want to repeat that mistake. Look at what had happened to Medrek and Unity for Democracy and Justice. They made a coalition in the last election, but now they are not together. The major reason for the fallout is the parties did not study each other well. So, in our view, before making a coalition and contesting as one big party, studying the ideology, the stand, and the principles of other parties is an important thing, and in the current Ethiopian reality, reaching on an agreement on these points is very difficult because the parties want to reflect only their own ideology. However, EDP strongly believes that forming one big party is important, if consensus is reached on the points.
Capital: What does your foreign policy look like?
Wondwossen: Our foreign policy gives foremost respect to the sovereignty of the country. For example, we will start a new negotiation with the Eritrean government because we don’t want the ports of Assab and Massawa to be unusable anymore. The ports must give mutual benefit for both countries. In addition to that, we will strive more to protect Ethiopia’s interest when we deal with neighboring countries, and we take into due consideration international rules and laws in our relationship with other countries. We have seen that the election atmosphere is very calm and many politicians have withdrawn from politics. This scenario can greatly shadow over the election result. The public must give its vote for the party it believes in, otherwise it will become even harder for the existing opposition parties to get involved in future elections. We are aware that some people do not believe in elections based on what they have witnessed in the past elections, but what we need to tell them is to give their vote to us and we will fight any wrong doing to the end. And we would like to remind all politicians that what Ethiopia needs is a smooth transition of power, not a bloody revolution, and we have to strive to make that real.