ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s prime minister met members of 81 opposition parties on Tuesday to discuss ways of reforming the electoral system, his office said, as he pressed on with promises to open up a political arena dominated by his coalition.
Abiy Ahmed has turned national politics on its head since coming to power in April by welcoming back exiled opposition and separatist groups, releasing prisoners and appointing a formerly jailed dissident as head of the election board.
The meeting focused “on highlighting the reforms required to ensure the upcoming election is free & fair, and the shared responsibilities of all,” his office said on Twitter. There was no immediate comment from any of the opposition groups.
Abiy’s ruling EPRDF coalition has been in power in Ethiopia – a major Western ally in an unstable region – since 1991. The grouping and its affiliated parties currently hold all the seats in parliament.
Last week he appointed Birtukan Mideksa as head of the board preparing for the next national elections, scheduled for 2020.
Birtukan was one of dozens of opposition figures arrested in the violent aftermath of a 2005 vote – when an opposition coalition stood against the government across the country, then challenged the EPRDF’s victory.
Security forces opened fire on crowds who took to the streets accusing the government and the election board of rigging the 2005 vote. Dozens died.
Abiy – the first member of Ethiopia’s majority Oromo group to lead a coalition long dominated by ethnic Tigrayans – has promised to rein in the powerful security services and started consultations to rework an anti-terrorism law that critics said had criminalised dissent.
Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Andrew Heavens