Ethiopia: Political Opponents Agree On the Use of Broadcasting Airtime for election

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The highly controversial issue in the Ethiopian electoral politics, the allocation of airtime for contesting parties during the time of campaigns, finally has a deal agreed upon by the ruling party and another 64 political parties after a three-day round of intense negotiations, disclosed sources.

The 10-page agreement, incorporating 12 articles, was made late on Friday afternoon, January 1, 2010, by the incumbent Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the Ethiopian Democratic Party (EDP), the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), the All Ethiopian Unity Party (AEUP) and another 61 parties that have recently signed on the electoral code of conduct.

Two negotiators from each of the four parties and an additional four negotiators delegated by the 61 parties have been negotiating inside Parliament up at Arat Kilo, inside the hall where the standing committee on defense often meets, according to these sources. The Forum for Justice and Democratic Dialogue (FJDD), which claim's to be the largest electoral front against the Revolutionary Democrats, was not a party to this deal, sources told Fortune. Its leaders have boycotted all negotiations, and deals, so far reached by the other political parties in the contest for the national elections.

The latest agreement includes a requirement that airtime and newspaper space in media houses under public ownership be allocated to each party taking part in the 2010 national elections, based on a formula proposed by the liberal democrats, the EDP. The ratio agreed dictates that a party's use of media airtime and space would be allocated on the basis of the number of seats it has in parliament (55pc), and the number of candidates it will field to the elections (20pc), while the remaining 25pc would be equally shared with all parties, Fortune learnt.

This formula was a middle ground from what the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority (EBA) had originally proposed, also and accepted by negotiators from the EPRDF and the CUD. It had suggested that the ratio should be 60:30:10; the first for the number of seats a party command in parliament, followed by the number of candidates they field.

This was rejected by both EDP and AEUP; negotiators of the latter had proposed a formula that was 30:10:60. AEUP had argued that the largest portion of the allocation should be divided equally by all parties, while 30pc should be for the number of seats a party has in parliament.

However, all the negotiators declined to make public statements to Fortune in fear of violating an earlier agreement that they ought to give a joint press statement.

These negotiators have yet to enter into one of the thorniest issues on the use of media. They have sharp differences on the modalities of transmissions when they will conduct policy debates. Live transmissions of such debates have dramatically changed the face of electoral politics during the past election. However, the incumbent is not comfortable to let unscripted, unedited, live transmissions of debates air, for fear of a repeat of the 16-round of debates transmitted live in 2005.

The debates during the previous election were characterised by lapses, unverified allegations and counter allegations as well as statements directed at the character of the debaters. Negotiators of the other parties strongly insist that debates should be transmitted live this time around, too. They cite the electoral code of conduct signed among the various parties to address the incumbent's concerns of debate discipline.

Addis Fortune