Jimma Times — In a statement to local journalists, Lidetu Ayalew of the Ethiopian Democratic Party (EDP) officially declared his full support to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) party over the opposition parties in the country.
Lidetu, who was once a leading official of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) opposition party, has often been accused of breaking apart the CUD from the inside and working for Meles in the name of an opposition figure. After his clash with most of the other CUD leaders since 2005, Lidetu has went ahead to develop his EDP group and prepare for the 2010 election.
During the week, Lidetu repeatedly denounced peaceful opposition parties as extremists while labeling the EPRDF ruling party as a “moderate” compared to the opposition. Lidetu’s recent aggressive attacks on the opposition has surprised many observers, including Ethiopians who expected Lidetu to recover his image damaged four years ago.
Meanwhile, Lidetu Ayalew has reportedly condemned the Obama administration’s Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Ambassador Jonnie Carson, after their last dialogue with the opposition in Addis Ababa. Several representatives of the Unites States government held a meeting with leaders of the Forum (Medrek) for Democratic Dialogue (FDD) opposition coalition, which included Engineer Gezachew Shiferaw of the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), Dr. Merera Gudina of the Oromo People’s Congress (OPC), Bulcha Demeksa of Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM) and independent officials Dr. Negasso Gidada and former Defense Minister Siye Abraha. They discussed about challenges for democracy in Ethiopia, the 2010 election, human rights issues and the case of Judge Birtukan Mideksa. However, according to FDD members, Lidetu Ayalew repeatedly tried to disturb the discussions between American government officials and the FDD officials. Lidetu criticized embassy officials for ignoring his EDP and he accused the FDD opposition coalition of allegedly being undemocratic.
Lidetu also criticized Oromo opposition leaders in Ethiopia’s parliament. Recently the OFDM leader Bulcha Demeksa has said Lidetu’s party is not a real opposition group since it always attacks opposition parties. Most Ethiopians similarly ask why Lidetu tries to divide the opposition based on minor ideological points that should be decided on by people’s vote while the country remains in desperate conditions in which basic democratic institutions are lacking; the court, military and election board are not independent. Over the last few months only, several opposition parties have revealed that their offices continue to get closed, their members harassed or imprisoned. Particularly, legal and peaceful Oromo opposition groups face the most harassment in the country due to their support base being in the rural away from the view of embassies, where government forces routinely persecute dissidents with impunity. However, in his latest statements, Lidetu again accused the Oromo opposition for allegedly being radical by seeking self-determination and democracy for Oromo people. He added that self-determination for Oromos hurts Ethiopian unity. Lidetu declared that he prefers Meles Zenawi’s OPDO sub-party of the EPRDF ruling party over the Oromo opposition groups.
Due to the growing human rights crisis in the country for opposition groups and their supporters, most opposition leaders have increasingly hinted a boycott for 2010, finding it too hard to participate in an election with the current worsening conditions. During the last few years, a small gathering of over two opposition supporters in the rural usually leads to government crackdown and sudden arrests, while the 2005 post-election demonstrations have also ended in a bloodshed with security forces killing 193 unarmed protestors. Because of this abysmal government record, some peaceful opposition leaders are increasingly discouraged and concerned about potentially putting their members in harms way in 2010 since the military is still controlled by the ruling party. Dr. Negasso Gidada added that the Meles government is worse compared to Emperor Haile Selassie I government, which did not massacre peacefully protesting civilians as the current government did in 2005.
According to JT sources, the Meles government has been opening space for Lidetu’s EDP and for another pro-government CUD faction led by the relatively unknown Ayele Chamiso, in case real opposition parties do boycott the 2010 election. Recently, the government allowed the EDP to hold conferences around the country and regularly offered the state-run lone television channel, ETV, for the pro-government CUD faction and Lidetu’s EDP.
Despite several promises, critics do not expect the Obama administration to make any change in American policy toward Ethiopia. Many observers expect the EPRDF ruling party and pro-government groups like EDP to dominate the composition of the 2011 post-election parliament, potentially leading to a de facto one-party parliament for the first time in nearly a decade.