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Yonathan Tesfaye, head of Public Relations for Semayawi Party.
Yonathan Tesfaye, head of Public Relations for Semayawi Party.

It is election time in Ethiopia. Political parties are doing all their best to obtain as many seats in the federal parliament and regional councils as possible. For the ruling EPRDF, the battle is all about maintaining the majority that it had for the past 23 years. But for the political opposition, the play is all about snatching the throne from the ruling party and forming a new government. As the campaigning period ingresses, DAWIT ENDESHAW, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER, sits with representatives of the ruling EPRDF and three opposition parties to converse about their preparation for the election, their thoughts about the pre-election process and their prediction of the election results. In these exclusive interviews conducted separately, Beyene Petros (Prof.), chairman of MEDREK; Reday Halefom, head of Public Relations for the EPRDF; Yonathan Tesfaye, head of Public Relations for Semayawi Party; and Chane Kebede (PhD), president of the Ethiopian Democratic Party (EDP), share their perspectives about various issues, not the last of which is their reflection on the conduct of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE).
Q: How is your party’s preparation for the upcoming national election going?
The upcoming election is one of our main agenda. We have allocated a big share of our budget and assigned a taskforce that comprises 50 individuals. Thirty of them are assigned outside of Addis Abeba to mobilize and recruit candidates, prepare observers and follow the election of public observers. As far as campaign time is concerned, this task force has been working to facilitate things and has been mobilizing our members to aggressively participate in campaigning.
In line with our campaigning strategy and outreaching the electorate, we use two ways, using media outlets and employing pamphlets, banners and posters. We even use a classic way of gathering via traditional coffee ceremony. Moreover, we are planning to launch a demonstration in 20 major cities across the country.
It is not that we think the EPRDF will transfer power after a fair, free and democratic election, wherein an opposition achieves a victory. But it is to give the people a chance to exercise their rights. We believe that the people have to decide on their fate.
We are trying to mobilise the electorate to actively engage in every level of the election. The election has to be something meaningful and has to respect the electorate, who are the sources of power.
We have already allocated 42 million Br for the overall election process. The money is collected from members, supporters from inside and outside Ethiopia and from other sources in accordance to the law. We have already been campaigning in some parts of Addis Abeba and the surrounding Oromia Zones and we are witnessing some positive support from the people.
Q: As far as the registration of candidates is concerned, you have been saying that 200 of your candidates have cancelled from registration. How many candidates exactly represent your party for the upcoming election? And did you still get the exact numbers of your candidates transferred to the final list (Kits-4)?
We get no exact information from the board regarding the number of our candidates transferred to the Kits-4. But we have tried to do our assessment and we found out that out of the 400 candidates registered for a seat in parliament we are confident only about 177 candidates may pass to Kits-4. But those candidates in Mekelle, South Wello, West Gojam, Wollayta, and Borena have been suspended and rejected by the Board from registration.
We are not sure on the final number, though. This confusion is creating a problem. For instance, during the time where the board allocated media airtime based on criteria, including the number of candidates a party registeres, numbers of candidates was not mentioned and we are unaware exactly on what grounds the board has allocated the media airtime. We were repeatedly demanding the board on the matter but to no avail.
Q: There were some incidents that raised controversy in the ongoing pre-election process. One could mention the decision of the NEBE’s on the intraparty fighting of the Unity for Democracy & Justice (UDJ) a.k.a Andinet, and the All Ethiopian Unity Party (AEUP). What do you think about it all?
Such kind of incidents may occur in every party’s internal politics. But the big picture is the decision by the board that follows proved to us how much the board is inefficient. Where have they been all this time?
Just waiting for this critical time and questioning about the legitimacy of presidents of each party and demanding for the respect of the bylaws shows how much the board is inefficient and partial.
In relation to this, the government media has played a role in undermining the picture of each party through a propaganda that depicts each party has a serious internal problem and groups within the party fail to solve their problem by discussion. This is distorting the attitude of the general public towards the opposition parties.
Q: Are you saying that the decision by the board was not appropriate?
Definitely! The decision is politically motivated.
Q: Recently, some members of your party, including the president, have been discarded from the election process due to an electoral law that limits the number of candidates in a constituency. How do you see the decision specifically and the law in general?
From the beginning, the law has a basic gap. Determining the fate of candidates of political parties through a lot is ridiculous. We enter the process having understood the gaps and the defects.
Q: What are the goals and achievements you expect as far as the election results are concerned?
Given the current progress and our assessment of the election process, we do not believe that the ruling party has an intention to transfer its power in democratic manner, in case of any defeat. However, we are fighting for the respect of the vote of the people in every constituency that we will run. And given the number of our candidates and the collaboration we have with eight opposition political parties, we have a chance of forming a coalition government.
Q: Tell me about your specific target?
The current political atmosphere would not allow us to have such kind of specific targets. But we think that we will secure either a seat that gives us a guarantee to form a government or a coalition government with other political parties.
Q: The NEBE has been repeatedly accusing your party for not abiding by the law, disrespecting its legitimacy and walking out from different meetings. Is this an intentional attempt or a political strategy from your site?
No! We do not intentionally use such activism as a strategy for identifying ourselves. It is the reality of the political environment that forces us to reflect in such way. Such criticism occurred because we strongly condemned the gaps we see; for instance, within the board, be it about its impartiality or its institutional performance.
Q: Do not you think the Board is impartial?
No, we do not think the board is impartial. And this is no different for other institutions, which are supposed to be impartial.
Q: If you think the NEBE is not impartial and has a serious problem of legitimacy, why run in the election?
If the Board fails to be impartial and to play its role, we have a moral and a historical responsibility to enforce it to do its job, appropriately and independently. We are here to scrutinize the Board, if it fails to do so.
Q: This will be the first national election for your party. What is unique about your party and what new things do you bring into Ethiopian political atmosphere?
Staring from our establishment, we came with a new sprit – a sprit which awakened the public from its post-2005 political depression, in terms of enthusiasm to engage in political activism. For a long time, the politics was dominated by old elites from the same generation and ideological background. However, Semayawi came up with founding members of the new generation. Ours is a party of the new generation. As far as ideological orientation is concerned, we came up with moderate liberalism.
Q: You said Semayawi is the party of the new generation. Do you think your party has managed to disentangle itself from the influence of the older generation?
Yes. Semayawi has successfully alienated itself from the influence of the older generation. Let alone this, even most of our Diaspora supporters are the members of the new generation.
Q: You said your party has allocated 42 million Br and some of the money is collected from the Diaspora community. While getting such donations different kind of influences may manifest themselves and some may even demand your party to operate based on their preference to the extent of designing a road map and forcing the party to operate as per the road map. How do you see such influences?
There have been such cases. But our support groups abroad are the ones who support our agenda and political program. We have many supporters in this respect.
PUBLISHED ON MARCH 9, 2015 [ VOL 15 ,NO 775

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