Controversial Decisions on Party Splits

tigstu-2The UDJ could be considered a strong party as it published two newspapers a week using its own printing press. It had also asked for a plot of land for the construction of a headquarters, according to one of the officials in the group that has lost as a result of the decision of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia. However, the party, that had strong differences within it regarding financial management, would face an irreconcilable difference over the election of Belay Fekadu as president, which eventually led to a decision by the Electoral Board throwing his group, including Girma Seifu, out of the party. At the time of Belay’s election last December, 2013, based on a new bylaw at the party, Tigestu Awol had no problem, because he assumed that the electoral board had approved the bylaw. Trouble erupted when he discovered that the board had not approved it. It may also be an irony that information which the NEBE decided was unacceptable two years ago, when it rejected the election of Abebaw Mehari as the president of the AEUP has now become acceptable making Abebaw and his group the rightful owners of the party appellation, AEUP. The day the board made the announcement in the presence of local and international media, Merga Bekana (Prof.), the board’s chairman, would only answer one question and leave the venue at the Hilton Addis Hotel, reports, DAWIT ENDESHAW, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.

 

After a much public awaiting and enthusiasm, National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE), the body which is responsible for regulating and implementing all elections (National, regional and local) with impartiality has finally decided on the fate of the two opposition parties: Unity for Democracy & Justice (UDJ) a.k.a Andinet & All Ethiopian Unity Party (AEUP), by banning and legitimizing groups within the same party framework as the legal representative. This decision has come after the alleged split within the two parties and the Board’s demand that they fix their problem and sit around a table and it is through this that the two parties can run for the upcoming general election.

The split occurred as the result of a quarrel between a group led by Belay Fekadu and Tigestu Awelu of UDJ and Abebawe Mehari and Mamushet Amare of AEUP over disagreements on the implementation of the bylaws of each party.

Specifically, on the side of UDJ, the group led by Tigestu was accusing Belay’s group over several issues. Among these are, presidential elections and collection and reporting of financial contributions.

“The reason we raise our voice is that there are people within the party who are elected undemocratically; it is not us who conspire against the party, it is them and this has created a division within the party,” Tigestu said.

The case was referred to the NEBE, he said, because they could not reach a compromise within the party.

“We had been trying to settle the problem through discussion,” he added.

According to Tigestu Awolu, who claims to be one of the members of the national assembly, Belay’s group gave a deaf ear to their demands. Specifically, the group had argued that the election of Belay Fikadu, on December 28, 2013, and his cabinet following the resignation Gizachew Shiferawe (Eng.), the party’s former president, was held in violation of the party’s bylaw; though, according to a letter sent by NEBE on January 6, 2015, the president of the party is supposed to be elected by the general assembly, Belay was elected by the national council. Belay’s group was claiming that the election was made by the national council after gaining legal auspices from national assembly; but a letter sent by the Board on October 20, 2014 stated that the decisions taken by UDJ’s national council were based on an amended bylaw which the NEBE had not approved. Tigistu, who was cabinet member during Gizachew’s presidency, says, however, that there was an assumption that the board had approved the bylaw, which had led to the election of Belay. Moreover, he claimed that financial contributions from the diaspora were handled inappropriately. The amount of money collected from the diaspora and the amount reported to the general assembly did not match. But the only evidence to support this was only what was observed and no documents, he said. He also declined to say how much money could have been lost on the way.

Gizachew, former president of UDJ, shares the concern of the financial management. He had written a circular letter on May 12, 2014, while he was still the president, urging a change in the manner financial contributions were transferred to the party, he said.

The usual trend was money transferred via individuals but the circular was meant to change this and bring the money through the party’s bank account, said Gizachew.

He argued that there was actually a decrease in the volume of the money flow from abroad; however, he declined to comment on whether this has happened as the result of the alleged conspiracy. Meanwhile, the group led by Tigestu blamed top ranking leaders of the UDJ for the drying up of the contribution from abroad, which he says was intentionally orchestrated. However, he told Fortune that he is not aware of the exact amount of money, which claimed decreased in volume.

“As the president of the party, Gizachew may know the amount,” suggested Tigestu.

Based on his statement, Tigestu had been a member of the UDJ since 2012, after his old party, Berhan, merged with the UDJ; he had been executive committee member of Berhan until then. Tigestu was elected as the chairman of the splinter group on January 11, 2015; on the same date Belay Fekadu was re-elected as the president of UDJ, even though, at the time, both elections were not approved by the Board.

However, the group presided over by Belay and vice president Girma Seifu, MP, lone opposition party seat holder at the parliament, argue against the above claims.

“We take this group as an entity working for the demise of the UDJ, acting on the front of a conspiracy co-orchestrated by the ruling party and the Board to weaken the UDJ and subsequently remove it from the election,” Asrat Abraham, acting head of external relation office of the party told Fortune.

“These people [Tigestu’s group] are trying to say we are employing the money for our personal use, however they have no evidence,” responded Girma.

It is not their mandate to evaluate the utilization of financial resource of the party, but NEBE’s, Girma added. But he declined to comment on how the party managed its financial resources.

According to the revised proclamation on registration of political parties, article 19 & 56, any political party has the responsibility to submit a written financial report, signed by the political leader, annually or whenever the Board requires, and that report must be certified by an auditor. Audit reports are expected from the sixth month of the registration of a party, and they must come on the third month from the close of the budget year.

At a press briefing called to condemn the government for forcefully breaking up a demonstration that was held on January 25, 2015, Asrat linked the award of the UDJ appellation by the board to Tigistu’s group to what happened in the case of the Coalition for Unity & Democracy (CUD), which he said was a political conspiracy.

“Tigestu’s group will inherit the dead body of the UDJ,” he said.

Like wise at the AEUP, two groups that were created over who should be president of the party would continue with their differences. Mamushet Amare was already elected president in October 2012, when another election took place in 2013, electing Abebaw Mehari. Mamushet’s group maintained that Abebaw’s election was not backed by presence of 50pc+1 members of the assembly. The eight–page document by the board, in which the NEBE’s final decision was announced, indicates that in the beginning, only 285 of the 600 members of the AEUP were reported as having attended the meeting that elected Abebaw. The board told them “to correct” that and Abebaw Mehari et al a list of 41 members, who they said were forgotten from the initial list. The NEBE initially rejected the second list, saying that it should have been submitted the first time. However, the board later changed its mind and decided to accept the second list of 41 names, making Abebaw’s election acceptable by the board

Following this struggle between the two groups, the Board had given two deadlines, one on January 13, 2015, which it extended to January 27, 2015, asking the groups to call a general assembly and to resolve their differences. However, the groups within the two parties failed to cut a deal. On January 11, Belay’s faction from the UDJ chose to elect its own president, but Belay’s election was rejected by the NEBE because the both groups did not attend the voting, leading to the second deadline.

“The Board has not given its approval for the reelection. Having considered the interest of the general public and considering the democratization process, we decided to give more time for the UDJ,” said Merga Bekana (Prof.), Chairman of the Board, on January 13, 2015.

As per the deadline given by the Board, the group led by Belay of UDJ and Mamushet of AEUP, argued that the groups had no legal ground to be considered as a separate body claiming to gain the legitimate representative seat of their party. On the contrary, the group led by Tigestu held a national council meeting, reelecting Tigestu as president and 50 members of national council.

On the side of Tigestu’s group, the group has reelected Tigestu Awelu as its president at the meeting held at Addis View Hotel, on Queen Elizabeth 2nd Street, on January 24, 2015.

However, the groups led by Belay and Mamushet committed to stay still, saying that they already elected their leadership and there was no need to repeat the same process. While on January 25, 2015, one day after the election by Tigestu’s group, Belay’s group had called demonstrations in Addis Abeba, Debre Markos, Ginka, Showa Robit and Arba Minch, though the demonstration at Addis Abeba had lasted no longer than 10 minutes, as police broke it up violently.

“If these groups think there was a problem in our party, they should come to their party and work to solve the problems within the party framework,” noted Asrat, UDJ’s public relations officer.

Following all these quarrels, NEBE announced its final decision on January 29, 2015 at the Hilton Addis Hotel. It accused the groups led by Belay and Mamushet of violating six procedures and bylaws of their own party. This included violating articles of the revised proclamation for the registration of political parties dealing with the election process of their own president. Thus, the NEBE awarded Abeba and Tigestu the use of the registered names of their respective parties.

Mamushet should not have been elected, according to the NEBE, because he was banned from the party in 2010/11. Mamushet admits that he was banned at the time, but was reinstated following a court ruling in his favour, which then led to his election as president. He rejected the board’s claim that his group did not have a legitimate stamp, saying that when Abebaw’s group had ran away with the stamp after the new election named Abebaw president in 2013. However, Abebaw’s election remained unaccepted by the board itself until last week’s decision.

“The decision by the board is not acceptable,” Maushet said. “We have already filed a suit at the Lideta Federal High court,” Mamushet told Fortune.

The accusation that Mamushet and his group were not paying membership fees, according to Mamushet, was a problem which lasted only while the case was at court, because of injunction preventing them from involving in the party activity.

“The Board has given the legitimacy to the group which were found to abide by the Board’s law, regulation and its own bylaw’s too, in comparison to its counterpart; this does not mean they are not clear of problems,” said Merga, answering the one and only question opportunity given to the media, which was taken by the Voice of America.

This decision will leave behind Girma Seifu (MP), the lone opposition party member with a seat in the parliament, as he may be forced not to run for the upcoming election.

“We are yet to discuss the matter to decide on our next step,” Asrat told Fortune, after the board’s decision, on Friday January 30, 2015.

The group had called a press briefing at the same date at the party’s office, which did not take place as they were denied access by the police.

“We were called to attend the general assembly meeting, but I could not pass the gate as police blocked me on the way,” a member of Belay group told Fortune.

According to Asrat, members of the losing group’s, national council met in the morning, before the police came, and decided to sever ties with Tigistu’s group, to cancel demonstrations that were to take place in Addis Abeba and Dessie on January 31 to keep meeting informally, and to take the case to court.

When the group finished the morning meeting, some of those attending went out for lunch, while others stayed in. But the police arrived, and drove out those that were inside and closed the gates.

The UDJ publishes two newspapers, Finote Netsanet, which appeared on Saturdays, and Ye Millionoche Demtse on Tuesdays. On Saturday, though, Finote Netsanet was not on the market because the party office was closed. The party used its own printing press for its newspapers. It had also asked for a plot of land for the construction of its own building, according to Asrat.



BY DAWIT ENDESHAW
FORTUNE STAFF WRITER

PUBLISHED ON FEBRUARY 01, 2015 [ VOL 15 ,NO 770]

 

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