Ethiopian lawmakers appointed Birtukan Mideksa, an ex-judge and once-jailed opposition leader, as chairwoman of the electoral authority.
The appointment signifies Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s commitment to introducing multiparty democracy in a nation that’s been ruled by the same party since it overthrew a military dictatorship more than a quarter of a century ago. The Horn of Africa country is scheduled to hold elections in 2020.
Abiy’s office announced his nomination of Birtukan as head of the National Election Board of Ethiopia on its official Twitter account, saying it “realizes his promise in facilitating electoral reforms and bears testimony to the political will for strengthening an independent election board.”
Birtukan was one of the leaders of the now dissolved Coalition for Unity and Democracy, an alliance of opposition parties that claimed victory in Ethiopia’s disputed 2005 elections. She and dozens of other opposition politicians, journalists and activists were jailed in the aftermath of that vote, during which government security forces killed at least 193 protesters.
Birtukan was jailed for life in 2008 after a dispute with the government over a pardon agreement. Amnesty International, the London-based human-rights group, described her as a prisoner of conscience. She was released in 2010.
“I know there is a big challenge ahead of me, but I work to ensure the national election board makes impartial and correct decisions, and that it becomes a trustworthy and participatory institution,” she said in an interview with the ruling-party funded Fana Broadcasting Corp.