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 opposition groups.
Abiy’s EPRDF coalition has been in power in Ethiopia – a major Western ally in an unstable region – since 1991. The grouping and affiliated parties hold all 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 of people 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 criminalized dissent.
Also on Tuesday, parliament approved new members to the census commission, signaling that the country is getting ready to conduct its first census in 10 years, the state-run Ethiopian News Agency said.
Ethiopia has more than 80 ethnicities and has designed its political system around regional ethnic groups, making the results of the census potentially contentious.