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Lidetu Ayalew played a leading role in bringing about the limited rights opposition parties enjoyed leading to the 2005 Ethiopian Election. He left the Federal Parliament as he did not win a seat. In 2011, he left the presidency of EDP to Mushe Semu since his party’s regulation does not allow one person to hold presidency more than two consecutive periods (eight years). Lidetu talked with Capital ‘s Reporter Tesfaye Getnet about what he thinks that opposition parties should take advantage of the new climate in Ethiopia to unify and work together because this was one of the reasons they were previously ineffective. Excerpts;
Capital: As a founding member how did you feel when EDP dissolved after 25 years?
Lidetu Ayalew: This is a common occurrence in our country. Other political parties have dissolved in a similar manner. We did constructive things for Ethiopian politics during our existence. Our policy positions were based on logic and we did not take unnecessary risks. Our good work showed and we had a positive internal memorandum of association. We thought our rules and regulation were enough to handle any problem that arose among us so we did not expect to dissolve. We scarified a lot to save the party form outside pressure and it is a pity to see ourselves outside political work during this time in our country when we need more commitment from political parties. In the past 27 years many political parties vanished because of external and internal pressure. However, we did not dissolve due to internal problems.
Around five times people tried to separate our group by spreading rumors and piling pressure on the party leaders but we challenged them and saved our party from division which shows that our internal strength was good. Our breakup came from the Ethiopia National Election Board who interfered in our internal issues and took action against us which contradicts the country’s laws and regulations. We found this unbelievable.
Many opposition parties are returning to Ethiopia from abroad despite the fact that they were in an armed struggle against the government. Now they have taken advantage of the improved political opportunity created in the county. So it is sad for us to be out of politics when there is such a good opportunity now to contribute to Ethiopia.
Capital: Do you feel your party has made a difference during its 25 years of existence?
Lidetu: Many of the critics base their arguments on emotion instead of logic. One of the ways you know if you are successful is the votes. If you count the election votes that have been carried out so far no opposition party has received more votes than EDP which means we have more public acceptance. We won two chairs in parliament and 14 on the Addis Ababa city council during our first election. In 2005 we won 41 seats in the parliament. Also from the 23 chairs that Coalition for Democracy gained, 18 came from us. So these figures refute the argument that EDP was not accepted by the public. However some people who listen only to social media critics by US extremist groups may assume that we did not have public popularity. After the 2005 election more damaging opinions were made against us but I when we campaigned during the 2010 the halls were full of people when we held public meetings and people told us that what we were doing was worthwhile. When you compare us with the current government maybe we were not that strong but we did our best to work toward healthy political discourse in the country. Honestly speaking there was not a strong opposition party in the country after the 2005 election and people warned many times that if political parties failed to bring change to the country the mass would bring changes and this is what happened over the last three years.
Capital: How did you try to save EDP from breaking up?
Lidetu: We spent two years in court trying to save our party. There was a minority group in our party who’s views were out of the mainstream. The election board make an illegal decision favoring them and allowing them to transfer money out of our bank account and use our stamp and documents. A single individual withdrew 450,000 birr from our account after this verdict, unlawfully. We appealed to the former PM Hailemariam Deslagne and the current PM Abiy Ahmed but we did not get any response so we decided to shut our doors.
Capital: Do you think it would have been better for CUD to join parliament during the 2005 election?
Lidetu: Absolutely yes, the chaos and the problems that we encountered so far may not have occurred if CUD had joined parliament with the votes they had. However, the few populist people did not take the chance that the people gave them. What I want to tell opposition parties for now is that they need to take the opportunity given to them from the sacrifice of many people’s lives and efforts.
Capital: You’ve held many positions in EDP including chair, do you have any regrets?
Lidetu: I would be happier if the political situation in Ethiopia was more respectful and energized and adhered to the laws and regulations. I would also be happier if people were more tolerant and listened to each other. However, this is out of my control. Many things were done to get to this point. We sacrificed our youth for a better political climate and a reduction in extremist politics. Even though we have worked hard there are still many extremists in the nation’s politics and the current generation should be blamed for this not only opposition parties.
Capital: What are your future plans? Do you want to establish another party?
Lidetu: I may continue by expressing my political ideas and criticism through media but these are personal activities and are not as effective as coordinated group activities. However, I will not form a party until the election board is dissolved and reorganizes itself in the way it serves political parties honestly and rightly. I will refrain from commenting on the country’s issues because after attending the Mekelle peace conference some weeks ago some people threatened my life and some of them sent me a message to kill me and burn my property. As far as I know Mekelle is part of Ethiopia and it is not a crime to go there and expresses my thought. So until some emotional people return back to their normal mind I will reserve myself from expressing my opinion on political issues.
Capital: Some people say political parties should work under one big umbrella rather than run in tiny divided rooms. What do you think about this?
Lidetu: Yes I agree if you look at the 2005 election the three groups, EPRDF, United Ethiopian Democratic Forces and CUD were the best competitors and we should learn from that. Making parties in every direction is not the solution for Ethiopia and working together and forming one strong party is the remedy for us. Now the glass of the government that used to see the opposition is changed and a better angle has been created. So it is good for opposition parties to take advantage of this opportunity by working together.