Ethiopia Appoints Birtukan Mideksa as Chair of Election Board
November 22, 2018 - The Ethiopian government appointed Birtukan Mideksa as the new chairperson of the National Electoral Board (NEBE).
Birtukan Mideksa is a well-known politician and former judge who also founded and led an opposition party, the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) party from 2008–2010.
Nominated by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Birtukan replaces Ambassador Samia Zekaria, who was chairperson of NEBE since last year.
The House of Peoples` Representatives overwhelmingly approved her appointment with 4 members against and 3 abstentions.
The National Electoral Board is accountable to the House of Peoples Representatives and is, at least on paper, an independent and autonomous organ.
The Broad has nine members who are nominated by the Prime Minister and appointed by the House of Peoples Representatives of Ethiopia.
Birtukan recently returned to Ethiopia after seven years in exile in the United States to be part of the ongoing reforms initiated by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Birtukan Mideksa made a name for herself when, as a judge of the 3rd district court of the federal first instant court, she presided over a high-profile case of the former defense minister and top ranking member of the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF), Siye Abraha, who was accused of corruption. She set the defendant free on bail. Siye was re-arrested later that day while he was walking out of the court accompanied by his family and friends.
Birtukan Mideksa joined the Movement for Democracy and Social Justice Party, and later, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD). In the election of 2005, her party reportedly won over a third of the seats. However, after the election, the government rounded up opposition leaders, including Birtukan Mideksa, and sent them to jail. She was convicted of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and was sentenced to life in prison. She was pardoned in 2007 after lengthy negotiations. She and other opposition leaders spent 18 months in prison.
Birtukan Mideksa later founded UDJ (Unity for Democracy and Justice) became its chairperson.
On December 28, 2008, Birtukan was arrested again, her 2007 pardon revoked, and was sentenced to life in prison once again. The givernment claimed that she did not live up to her pardon conditions.
On October 6, 2010, Birtukan was released from prison, after she expressed regret for her actions according a statement released by the government at the time.
Birtukan Mideksa subsequently left the country and went to the United States from where she received scholarship, and later became a fellow at Harvard University's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research.
He appointment as Chairperson of the National Electoral Board has so far been widely praised, with some describing her as a courageous woman with principled determination who upholds justice in the face challenges.