The Associated Press Friday, June 20, 2008 –ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia: Opposition politicians are forming a party similar to the alliance that presented the most credible challenge to date to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s 17-year hold on power, the party’s leader said on Friday. Read also in Amharic: [ልዩ ጥንቅር – የመሪዎቹ አጭር ታሪክ] [60 የብሔራዊ ምክር ቤት አባላት]
The Unity for Democracy and Justice party will contest the 2010 general elections and is confident of winning, said Birtukan Midekssa, the party’s chairwoman.
Many of the people who made up the main opposition alliance that won the most seats that any opposition group has won in the Ethiopian lower house of Parliament in 17 years are now members of the Unity for Democracy and Justice party, Birtukan told journalists.
“If you talk about the minds and the hearts of the people, I don’t think the (ruling party) is bigger than us,” Birtukan said. “If you talk about the head count, maybe.”
Birtukan said they have applied to the National Electoral Board to be registered as a party.
In 2005 elections, what was then the main opposition alliance, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, won 109 seats in the lower house of parliament. That was more than any opposition party has won since Meles took power in 1991. But allegations of electoral fraud prompted protests during which government security forces killed 193 protesters.
More than 100 leaders and members the Coalition for Unity and Democracy were arrested and charged with treason. Diplomats and Ethiopian elders negotiated a deal under which the opposition members pleaded guilty to the charges and asked for pardon before the government released them last year.
Meles and his Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front first came to power in 1991 when they ousted Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam after a 17-year insurgency.