ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – An opposition figure who has recently returned from exile was named head of the Ethiopian election Thursday, while the country is preparing for what the reformist prime minister promises to be "free and fair elections" in 2020.
Birtukan Mideksa, the former judge, is the highest figure in ex-opposition to assume a high-ranking government post in Ethiopia in recent history. She is also the most recent of the many women in important positions in Prime Minister Abi Ahmed's new administration.
Birtukan is among the Ethiopians who have returned to the country after years of exile, encouraged by the dramatic political reforms announced by Abiy since taking office in April. She was elected by Abiy to lead the election commission after the two met during her recent visit to the United States, where in a series of enthusiastic meetings he encouraged people disappointed by previous administrations to come home. Lawmakers approved Thursday's decision.
"The first democratic election is the first, after which the win comes," Abiy told lawmakers. "The conduct of free and fair elections is the cornerstone of a democratic system. We must all stay firm so that future elections are not handled."
Birtukan left Ethiopia after years of friction with the previous administration. It was detained shortly after the violent and controversial elections in 2005, which led to the deaths of more than a dozen people. Opposition leaders have been imprisoned after accusing Meles Zenawi's administration of defrauding the vote.
She condemned an 18-month prison term before being pardoned in 2007, but was arrested again in 2008 and sentenced to life in prison after officials accused her of violating the terms of forgiveness. He left the country after being released again in 2010 and returned this month.
Also on Thursday, the prime minister, in comments to parliamentarians, said the country would have to build a new city to keep all suspected corruption and rights abuses in previous administrations.
Abiy said that "the prison facilities we have here in Ethiopia are not enough to deal with a large number of offenders … we chose to focus on major cases and leave the rest for a reconciliation commission that is in course of development ".
Sixty-three intelligence, military and business intelligence officials have been arrested this month for allegations of abuse and corruption.
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