The election of Ethiopia’s 547-member constituent assembly was held in June 1994. This assembly adopted the constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in December 1994. The elections for Ethiopia’s first popularly chosen national parliament and regional legislatures were held in May and June 1995. Most opposition parties chose to boycott these elections. There was a landslide victory for the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). International and non-governmental observers concluded that opposition parties would have been able to participate had they chosen to do so.
The current government of Ethiopia was installed in August 1995. The first President was Negasso Gidada. The EPRDF-led government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi promoted a policy of ethnic federalism, devolving significant powers to regional, ethnically based authorities. Ethiopia today has nine semi-autonomous administrative regions that have the power to raise and spend their own revenues. Under the present government, some fundamental freedoms, including freedom of the press, are circumscribed.
Citizens have little access to media other than the state-owned networks, and most private newspapers struggle to remain open and suffer periodic harassment from the government. At least 18 journalists who had written articles critical of the government were arrested following the 2005 elections on genocide and treason charges. The government uses press laws governing libel to intimidate journalists who are critical of its policies.
Meles’ government was elected in 2000 in Ethiopia’s first-ever multiparty elections; however, the results were heavily criticized by international observers and denounced by the opposition as fraudulent. The EPRDF also won the 2005 election returning Meles to power. Although the opposition vote increased in the election, both the opposition and observers from the European Union and elsewhere stated that the vote did not meet international standards for fair and free elections. Ethiopian police are said to have massacred 193 protesters, mostly in the capital Addis Ababa, in the violence following the May 2005 elections in the Ethiopian police massacre.
The government initiated a crackdown in the provinces as well; in Oromia state the authorities used concerns over insurgency and terrorism to use torture, imprisonment, and other repressive methods to silence critics following the election, particularly people sympathetic to the registered opposition party Oromo National Congress (ONC). The government has been engaged in a conflict with rebels in the Ogaden region since 2007. The biggest opposition party in 2005 was the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD). After various internal divisions, most of the CUD party leaders have established the new Unity for Democracy and Justice, party led by Judge Birtukan Mideksa. A member of the country’s Oromo ethnic group, Ms. Birtukan Mideksa is the first woman to lead a political party in Ethiopia.
In 2008, the top five opposition parties were the Unity for Democracy and Justice led by Judge Birtukan Mideksa, United Ethiopian Democratic Forces led by Dr. Beyene Petros, Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement led by Dr. Bulcha Demeksa, Oromo People’s Congress led by Dr. Merera Gudina, and United Ethiopian Democratic Party – Medhin Party led by Lidetu Ayalew. After the 2015 elections, Ethiopia lost its single remaining opposition MP; there are now no opposition MPs in the Ethiopian parliament.