Photo: AFPEthiopian PM and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) chairman Meles Zenawi, center (File Photo)Ethiopia's sparsely-populated Tigray region is shaping up as the focal point for the May 23rd elections for parliament. Tigray contributes only 6 percent of Ethiopia's 80 million people. But, it could hold the key to the country's political future.
Tigray might well be called Ethiopia's battleground state, in more ways than one.
A homegrown rebel group, the Tigray People's Liberation Front, or TPLF, waged a guerrilla war in the 1970s and 80s that toppled the country's Soviet-backed military regime. During the war, Tigray was the epicenter of a famine that killed as many as a million people. It was also the front-line state in a war against Eritrea from 1998-2000, which claimed another 70,000 lives.
Today, the TPLF's leaders are Ethiopia's leaders. They comprise the core of the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), starting with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
But with elections 2.5 weeks away, Tigray is again a battleground. After 19 years in power, the ruling party is facing its first significant electoral challenge in its stronghold. Moreover, it is a challenge from within, led by members of a breakaway TPLF faction.
The opposition's attack is aimed at two sensitive and emotional issues: the concept of Revolutionary Democracy that is the heart of the ruling party's ideology; and the troubled relationship with neighboring Eritrea.
Opposition spokesman and candidate for Tigray's regional parliament, Berhanu Berhe, calls Revolutionary Democracy a Marxist-Leninist recipe for a one-party dictatorship.
"Revolutionary Democracy is an ideology that categorizes society into class. Then some of the classes are enemies, the others are friends," said Berhe. "That is class analysis. And this class analysis is basically Leninist policy. Then this policy will crush the enemies using the friendly classes, and this does not work. The failure of the Soviet Union was this."
Aregash Adane was one of the TPLF's top women fighters during what is known as the 'armed struggle'. She is the opposition candidate challenging Prime Minister Meles.
Aregash once shared the dream of a revolutionary democratic state bringing justice and economic development to Ethiopia. She says 19 years of bitter experience has shown otherwise.
"We have to learn from our experiences. This is not a short period. And I do not think this Revolutionary Democracy will bring basic change in our country," she said. "It has proved a failure. Do we have to stay another 19 years to understand there is a failure in our country by the leadership of Revolutionary Democracy."..more..