Hundreds of Ethiopians in the Washington, D.C. metro area paid $30 Sunday to hear from major contenders for the 23 May parliamentary election back home.<!-- IMAGE -->
Bertukan Mideksa, the chairperson of the Unity for Democracy and Justice party, was noticeably absent. Though her photo captioned "Free Birtukan Mideksa from Kaliti Prison" was placed on the table.
Gizachew Shiferaw, her deputy, waived to supporters as he entered the room and took to the stage. "I greet you in the spirit of peace," Gizechew said, raising his right hand aloft. That gesture has become the UDJ symbol for the coming election. "Our leader, Bertukan Mideksa, languishes in prison, but we will not stop our struggle," he said to loud applause and cheering.<!-- IMAGE -->
The National Election Board of Ethiopia does not permit Ethiopian citizens living outside the country to vote in absentia. So these meetings focus on getting financial support from the diaspora.
Medrek leaders were asked tough questions before participants were asked to open their purses and wallets for donation. Many of the questions reflected concern about the increasing trend of division within the opposition.<!-- IMAGE -->
A major contender in the 2005 elections, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy disintegrated in the aftermath of the polls, widespread discontent and subsequent arrests and killings.
One activist who donated thousands of dollars asked, "What is your game- changing plan? How do you plan to defeat an incumbent that controls most of the country's institutions?"
Former ruling party member and minister of defense Si'ye Abraha said, "We are trying to hold on to the tide. Despite the challenges, our goal is to stay onboard and participate in the process that, we hope, will give the people of Ethiopia a much-needed political change.
Ethiopia's ruling party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democractic Front, is also holding community meetings in the United States. A delegation that included the Minister of Justice Berhane Hailu is campaigning on the promise of economic development in Ethiopia.
VOA requested to cover the events, but Ethiopian embassy officials did not respond.<!-- IMAGE -->
Listen to what Medrek leaders had to say