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Former census chief to run electoral board

Former census chief to run electoral board

The House of People’s representatives (HPR), on Wednesday, endorsed the nomination of Samiya Zekaria, former Director General of the Ethiopian Central Statistics Agency (CSA) for two decades before leaving her post in 2016 on an ambassadorial duty, to chair the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE).

During the extra ordinary session called by House Speaker Abadulla Gemeda, the House also endorsed the appointments of nine members for the newly-proposed management of NEBE comprising a chairperson, vice chairperson and seven board members.

Being the first woman to chair NEBE, her appointment makes her the third chairperson of the institution, since the incumbent came to power in 1991. Meanwhile, Demoze Mame, was picked as her deputy.

Similarly, seven individuals consisting of three women, in addition to Samiya, and five men were appointed as members of the board in a vote that saw two MPs vote against while two showed abstentions. The seven members are: Belay Mekonnen (Rev./Kesis), Yeshihareg Damte, Feteen Abay (Prof.), Tsehay Menker, Tekalegn Gebreselassie, Jemal Mohammed, and Habte Fichala.

The House welcomed the gender composition of the board which consisted of four women.

NEBE is one of the key institutions in the country regarded as a democratic institution, structurally accountable to the legislative organ. However, it usually entertains contentious receptions among the public due to the political nature of the nation it is endowed with.

 It is usually criticized for being biased and loyal to the ruling party instead of its basic foundation to serve in a neutral manner, for all political parties in the country.

The government is also repeatedly criticized for influencing the institution to undertake its mandate to enhance the democratization process through free and fair elections.

Along with the institutions, its board members have also been widely viewed as controversial among various groups particularly from political organizations, activists and critics.

 The notable figures that had run the board in the past five elections since 1991 include, former chairpersons Kemal Bedri and a more recently Merga Bekana (Prof.)

Kemal Bedri, best known for his role during the much disputed and controversial elections of 2005, saw the highest number of parliamentary seats won by the then emerging opposition parties the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF) and others before it ended in chaos and violence. His successor, Merga, who has led NEBE after the 2005 election until last year before leaving to Paris for diplomatic role, was also controversial. It was during the latter’s reign that, the ruling party took over 100 percent parliamentary seats after sweeping the entire opposition.

Now, Samiya, who has been serving as Ethiopia's Ambassador to Nigeria since 2016, has officially replaced Merga. She was once a controversial figure following the 2006 national census result. It was the result of the Amhara region’s population that had stirred a heated debate among the-then parliament as well as the public that later prompted the House to vote for a re-count of the population of the region designated as inter-census.