Ethiopia‘s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has met members of opposition parties to discuss ways of reforming the country’s electoral system, the latest move in a campaign to open up a political arena dominated by his ruling coalition.
The meeting with 81 opposition groups on Tuesday discussed ways of ensuring elections in 2020 were “free and fair”, the Ethiopian leader’s office said on Twitter. There was no immediate comment from opposition groups.
The prime minister’s EPRDF coalition has been in power since 1991. The grouping and affiliated parties hold all the seats in parliament.
Abiy has turned Ethiopian 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.
Last week, Abiy made Birtukan Mideksa the head of the board preparing for the 2020 elections.
Mideksa was one of dozens of opposition figures arrested in the violent aftermath of a 2005 vote – when an opposition coalition that stood against the government across the country 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 that vote. Dozens of people died.
Abiy has promised to rein in the powerful security services and started consultations to rework an anti-terrorism law that critics say has criminalised dissent.
The prime minister is the first member of Ethiopia’s majority Oromo group to lead a coalition long dominated by ethnic Tigrayans.
Also on Tuesday, parliament approved new members to the census commission, signalling 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.