Ethiopia's ruling coalition agrees to form single party ahead of 2020 vote

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s ruling coalition on Thursday approved the merger of its four ethnic-based parties into a single national one ahead of the 2020 elections, part of the prime minister’s efforts to unite the country, but one of the parties boycotted the vote.

FILE PHOTO: Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during a session with the Members of the Parliament in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, October 22, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/

The coalition’s leaders approved the new party’s program, coalition spokesman Fekadu Tessema told Reuters after the meeting.

The maneuvering showed how the country – Africa’s second most populous – is torn between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s unifying drive and various ethnic groups seeking more autonomy.

Abiy is hoping his rapid reforms can win over voters alienated by decades of abuse by the ruling coalition before next year’s elections. The autobiography he published last month is titled “Medemer”, Amharic for “synergy” and he frequently invokes unity.

Critics say Ethiopia’s 105 million citizens comes from more than 80 ethnic groups, and that attempts to impose unity – including forming a single national political party – are doomed.

“We can’t whitewash the ethnonationalist sentiment, which is the reality,” said Zerihun Teshome, an Addis Ababa-based political analyst and chief executive of a local media company.

The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) set up a political system after it seized power in 1991 that gives significant autonomy to nine ethnically-based regions, which control local taxes, education, and their own security forces.

The Sidama ethnic group voted in a referendum this week on whether to create Ethiopia’s 10th region. Results have not yet been released.

The party that boycotted Thursday’s coalition meeting condemned the move to form a single party as rushed and undemocratic.

“The whole process is a total sham. The prime minister didn’t follow the right procedures…it was wrong as well as undemocratic,” said Getachew Reda, a senior member of the Tigrayan party, which dominated the EPRDF before it appointed Abiy, from the Oromo ethnic group.

Reda said that Abiy had rushed to combine the four parties without consulting the coalition’s lower level cadres.

A spokeswoman for Abiy’s office referred a request for comment on Getachew’s allegation to the ruling coalition spokesman, who was not immediately reachable.

Additional reporting by Giulia Paravicini; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Frances Kerry

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