Ethiopian Television has been airing nightly segments of political debate between many of the candidates for parliament who are running in national elections scheduled for 23 May.
The debates have been airing for four weeks. Some residents who followed the edited TV programs say Lidetu Ayelew of the opposition Ethiopian Democratic Party, EDP, is rebounding in the polls as a result of his performance. “He was able to clearly explain his position so that we could understand,” said one potential voter.
In spite of Lidetu's performance in the debates, some residents are still suspicious of his political ties and say they "still don’t trust him". After the 2005 elections, Newspaper reports and opposition political leaders accused Lidetu of being a ruling party sympathizer. The accusations were reinforced when Lidetu’s party, EDP, joined parliament after his colleagues were sent to jail. EDP’s support of the Somali intervention where thousands of Ethiopian troops were sent in defense of the transitional government in Mogadishu, did not help his already tarnished reputation.
Another opposition party, the All Ethiopian Unity Party, initially decided not to take part in the debates because the debates were on tape. In 2005, the TV debates were live. Residents in Addis told VOA, the debate is an important part of the election process. “The fact that the government is able to conduct this kind of debate is positive,” said one Ethiopian. “It helps people know how to vote.”
Have these debates had an impact on voters? More than 98 percent of Ethiopian residents do not have access to television. The state owned radio stations also broadcast the debates.
VOA reporter Eskinder Firew recently asked students at Addis Ababa University, a taxi driver in front of the Ambassador Theater, and other Addis residents how they rate the debaters. Many people declined to comment, but he found some who voiced their opinion.
(Editor's Note: Audio filed over the phone. )
Listen to excerpts from the debates and voter reaction gathered by Eskinder.