Ethiopia’s most powerful female politician steps down

Friday 28 January 2011 / by Desalegn Sisay –

Birtukan Mideksa, a renowned former judge and leader of Ethiopia’s powerful opposition party, Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) has decided to step-down from her influential presidential position at UDJ, four months after she was pardoned and freed from a life person term.

Ethiopia’s youngest and charismatic opposition party leader has revealed her decision to retire from active politics in the latest edition of Awramba Times, a local Amharic language newspaper.

The 36 year old Birtukan Mideksa confirmed to the newspaper that she had asked her party to organise a general assembly to elect a new person to replace her as president.

According to Amnesty International, Birtukan Mideksa had become a prisoner of conscience after she was rearrested a few months ahead of Ethiopia’s national elections last year.

Her arrest dealt a severe blow to her followers and injured her party’s influence in the widely criticised 2010 elections which saw the ruling party, Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), grab 545 seats in a landslide victory that left only two seats for opposition parties in the 547-member parliament.

A Few days after the opening of the new parliament, the EPRDF government pardoned Birukan for a second time.

Birtukan who led the vibrant opposition alliance in the run up to the 2005 elections was accused of fomenting violence after that year’s general elections and sent to jail after judges found her guilty on treason charges. And after reportedly signing a plea, regretting the crimes she was accused of, she was released alongside senior members of her party in September 2007.

But Mideksa was re-arrested and sent back to prison on 28 December 2008 to continue her life sentence after she failed to report to the Addis Ababa Police Commission to deny a reported slur on the conditions of her release during a trip to Sweden. She is believed to have indicated that her pardon was a result of political negotiations and not a favour from government.

Birtukan Mideksa has since her release, in October 2010, refused to talk openly about her time in prison or her political future. It is believed that her freedom came with preconditions that indirectly bars her from a full political engagement.

One Party

After Birtukan’s second sentence, Ethiopian opposition decried a plan by the ruling party to create a single party in the country, ahead of the 2010 elections; a plan that observers believe reflects the current political representation of the Horn of Africa country’s parliament.

Ethiopian observers have indicated that the political atmosphere in the country is not conducive for Birtukan or her party to remain fully operational. Some argue that unless she leaves Ethiopia UDJ will be bogged down by the conditions of her pardon.

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