Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A Way Out

By Fikru Helebo

I have tried to point out in the last five months that the best strategy for the Ethiopian opposition (Kinijit and UEDF) to pursue in the post-election period is to develop a working relationship between them that goes beyond putting out occasional joint press releases and that allows for a real-time coordination of their respective short-term strategies. The June 8th massacre could have been avoided if there was such a working relationship between the UEDF and Kinijit.

The main reason why there was no working relationship to speak of between the two groups in the immediate post-election period was because of Kinijit's short-sightedness in not willing to share the limelight with the UEDF after their successful showing in the May 15th elections. As weeks weny by, however, it was becoming clear that the two groups had realized that it was for their mutual benefit to coordinate their strategy against the EPRDF as was evidenced by Kinijit's embrace of UEDF's proposal for a government of national unity.

Unfortunately, this working relationship did not last long enough to see the two groups through the critical time of the week prior to the opening of parliament. Instead of forging a single strategy on whether to join or boycott parliament, the two groups went about their own ways. More precisely, a faction of the UEDF led by Drs. Beyene and Merera defied the majority will of their party and joined parliament, thus denying the opposition a single strategy to confront the EPRDF.

I do believe that this action of Drs. Beyene and Merera has weakened the hand of the opposition significanly and needs to be rectified by them soon. There is a way out of this quagmire for Drs. Beyene and Merera and their supporters, and that is this: they need to come up with a short list of demands to the EPRDF that will put a condition on their stay in parliament. Here are my suggestions:

1. Demand that an independent body that has international presence be set up immediately to investigate the massacre of June 8th and all post-election murders of opposition supporters.

2. Demand that the National Election Board be dismantled immediately and be replaced by a professional body that is independent of parties.

3. Demand that all the parliamentary rules that were changed since the May 15th elections be declared null and void.

These demands should be presented to the EPRDF within a week or so and a response to it should be demanded in a reasonably short period of time. If these demands are not met in their entirety within a deadline that is set, then Drs. Beyene and Merera and their fellow opposition parliamentarians should walk out of parliament permanently. This is what Drs. Beyene and Merera and their supporters should do if they want to advance the cause of freedom and democracy in Ethiopia at this critical time.

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