Two former judges, Birtukan Mideksa (left), a prominent activist and politician, and Meaza Ashenafi, president of the Supreme Court, stood before parliament last Thursday, November 22, 2018. Birtukan was nominated by the Prime Minister to chair the Electoral Board before being approved by MPs and then sworn in by Chief Justice Meaza.

The parliament did not approve her appointment unanimously. Out of 330 MPs, three abstained and four voted against her.

Once the parliamentary session ended, the two posed for pictures, and Birtukan answered questions from the gathered media.

“Every election held has inspired doubts in the public’s heart instead of trust,” she said, adding that the Electoral Board will henceforth work to regain the public’s confidence and will oversee elections that all participant parties can trust.

The symbolism of appointing a former member of the opposition Unity for Democracy & Justice (UDJ), jailed following the contested general election of 2005 and sentenced to life in prison before being granted a pardon, has not escaped notice. Both domestic and international observers praised her election as a step forward in the democratisation of Ethiopia.

Not everyone has been enthusiastic, however. It has been pointed out that her appointment to head the Electoral Board should have been done in consultation with opposition parties. Also, there are complaints that her ascendancy to head the Board comes at a time when a working group is still drawing up recommendations to amend the electoral law and the organisation of the Board.

The working group is part of a 13-member Advisory Council for Legal & Justice Affairs, which includes Chief Justice Meaza. The Council was set up under the Attorney General’s Office to recommend amendments to media, anti-terrorism and charity law, as well as to restructure democratic institutions such as the Electoral Board.






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