ERITREAN DEMOCRATIC PARTY (EDP)
The Eritrean People’s Democratic Party (EDP) was established on January 1, 2010 through the merger of the Eritrean Democratic Party (EDP), Eritrean People’s Movement (EPM), the Eritrean People’s Party (EPP) and the Eritrean Democratic Resistance – Gash Setit (EDR-GS) which joined the EPP in May 2009, prior in to the Merger Conference convened between 29 and 31 December 2009 in Frankfurt Germany.
The main objective for the formation of the new party was the urgent need for unity, change and development in Eritrean political organization of the opposition in exile. Our new party, the EPDP, is an all inclusive, broad based national political party that shall consistently work to achieve the betrayed aspirations of the Eritrean people for democracy, equality, social justice and the rule of law. It strives to lay down favorable ground through peaceful and democratic struggle for the causes of change and democratization in Eritrea as well as enhancing the performance of the Eritrean opposition camp by strongly adhering to the protection of human and political rights of all Eritrean citizens, irrespective of their political affiliation, belief, language or their regional or ethnic origin. Needless to say, we believe the formation of the party was a major improvement upon the form of struggle adopted by various organizations in the Eritrean opposition camp.
The EPDP draws its historical legacies from the experiences of national struggle for independence of both fronts, the Eritrean liberation Front (ELF) and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) whose 30 years of combined efforts immensely contributed to the building of a solid national awareness and consummated the essentials that led to the making of independent Eritrean statehood.
The EPP whose mother organization was the Eritrean Liberation Front – Revolutionary Council (ELF-RC) and the EDR-GS were progenies of the ELF, a front that started the armed struggle in 1961. The EDP and EPM historically belonged to the EPLF that was established in 1970 after a political and organizational split that occurred within the ELF. While it is recognizable that both organizations, the ELF and EPLF, fought the war against the Ethiopian occupation, and succeeded in engaging the whole population in the struggle for national freedom, it was the EPLF that fought the final phase of the war and achieved military victory 1991. It is also to be regrettably recalled that there was a sad story behind the heroic achievements of the Eritrean Revolution, a story of violent conflict between the two brotherly national fronts, the ELF and the EPLF. That was why the merger sought by the three parties even by the end of 2009 seemed improbable to some quarters. The 2010 New Year’s outcome however indubitably testified that, through unrelenting persistence of peaceful incremental approaches, the 40-year divergence could be put to an end, bitterness could be surpassed and Eritrean unity could be attained.
When Eritrean national independence was finally achieved, there was hope for building a democratic nation where all its citizens would enjoy the fruits of their decades of struggle. Almost all fronts, cognizant of the fact that national harmony and nation building constitute the priority of all, had opted to exclude any use of force and to engage in a broad and constructive national dialogue with each other. There was also a trend within the winning party, the EPLF, which was committed for a smooth transition to democracy after the Ethiopian forces of the repressive military government of Mengistu Hailemariam, the Dergue, were driven out of the country.
It was widely understood that, following the collapse of the Dergue and all its administrative structures, all organizations were determined to avert the creation of power vacuum. Considering this fact, the established EPLF’s provisional government was immediately recognized by all Eritreans and a smooth transition to democracy was called. Several proposals were also put forward towards that end, including:
- Allow all Eritrean organizations to peacefully function in the country
- Endorse a democratic dialogue between political organizations, religions and ethnic groups and address concerns of all sections of the society, thereby creating favorable situation to promote harmony and social progress
- Establish a transitional national unity government that would adopt a national constitution and a smooth process to hand over power to a democratically elected government.
These proposals, which could have laid out a path for a smooth transition, were, sadly, rejected. The new leader, Isaias Afeworki, opted to ignore all calls for coherent and peaceful transitional period, and in the end transformed the front to what he called the Peoples Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ). In this way, he imposed himself as the sole and implacable authority of our young Eritrea. He also unleashed widespread campaign of terror and imprisonment with the aim of silencing any voice advocating for democracy, and in September 2001, when the world attention was focused on September 11 terrorist attack over the United States of America, he banned the press and imprisoned key leadership figures of the historical EPLF.
Thus, by marginalizing first the ELF and silencing voice for democracy in the EPLF, the Eritrean political process drifted away from its long-awaited and much expected democratic course. Instead, a full-fledged one-man dictatorship that betrayed and killed the aspirations of the whole nation entrenched itself in the newly liberated land. Gradually but surely, Eritrea had to witness slow death of its long-held dreams for peace, democratic governance, and economic and social prosperity.
It was with this background that the now united parties entered into dialogue. They have worked hard to spot and iron out their differences and to devise a working platform for all. They managed to put the past where it belongs and look forward for real change in the Eritrean political arena. In the process of their dialogue, the merging parties saw no option other than unite their forces and continue the struggle for constitutional multiparty democracy and champion the people’s aspirations for a free society and a state that respects all inalienable human rights including freedom of thought, expression, movement and assembly.
The Party Formation Process: the Birth of the Eritrean People’s Democratic Party
The dialogue between the parties, that started as early as five years ago, aimed to include all organizations that have similar political and ideological vision on the future of Eritrea and to establish an all inclusive, broad based mass party. To this end and within 2008-2009, joint leadership bodies, and technical and regional committees were established from members of all participating parties to coordinate joint activities, draft a political program and party constitution, to engage in more dialogue and to carry out the tasks of preparing the merger conference. This process succeeded in embracing not only registered members of the merging parties, but also broad sections of the Eritrean people and many intellectuals as well as the youth and women.
After long, unrelenting collective efforts exerted by all participating parties, it was possible to look beyond the story of crippling differences and to embrace the capacity of all and make them effective agents of change. The historical merger conference was then convened by the end of 2009 in Frankfurt, Germany, and the birth of a new party, the Eritrean People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), was declared on 1 January, 2010.
By this declaration, the EPDP opened new doors to itself and to the future of Eritrean politics: a future with a solid program that defends the rights of the Eritrean people, advances the idea of democratic change, and installs peace, stability, and progress. To this end, the Merger Conference adopted the party’s political program and constitution, took important decisions on key issues, and formed a leadership.
What the Eritrean People’s Party Stands for
After assessing the sad situation in today’s Eritrea which is at the brink of becoming a totally failed state due to PFDJ’s 19-year miss rule, the EPDP confirmed its belief and commitment to help in the removal of the one-man dictatorship and in its place build a democratic system with lasting institutions. The party is a non-sectarian, non-regional and non-ethnic democratic political organization that strives to maintain national unity of the Eritrean people and recognizes its diversity. Among other things, the Party shall strive for the achievement of the following fundamental principles:
- Sovereignty and territorial integrity of the nation.
- A freely and fairly elected constitutional democratic government that can serve the interest of the nation and accountable to the people.
- Freedom of thought, assembly and movement and encouragement for the existence of vigorous opposition.
- Civil society working for the ultimate interest of the people, voicing their concerns and aspirations without fear and promoting democracy and human rights.
- Transparence and accountability of all public administrative structures that will be committed to efficient service to the society.
- Equality of all Eritreans irrespective of their ethnicity, belief, gender or age, and an efficient judiciary system in which all sections of the people will be guaranteed equal protection under the law.
- Freedom of press and a responsible media that is free and informative.
- Reconstruction and development plan based on free market economy and achievement of sustainable economic growth focusing on the ability of the Eritrean people to engage in production. Maintenance of economic freedom and security with due consideration of equitable distribution of income that promotes social justice.
- Access to education without discrimination and the promotion of public and private educational institutions whose main goals will be to eradicate illiteracy, to raise self awareness and to gain knowledge.
- A non partisan, people friendly army whose main objective is to protect the nation and to defend the constitution. An army that stands for the protection of the sovereignty of the people and which is recruited and trained according to internationally accepted criteria with due consideration to the diversity of the Eritrean people.
In addition to the above mentioned strategic principles, the party is also cognizant of the fact that Eritrean families and individuals have sacrificed dearly during the times of war and toiled hard to own a decent life in independent Eritrea. At the same time, the party also appreciates the fact that stability and development will remain unreachable without sustainable peace. To this end, the party has also adopted at its Merger Conference, other important political resolutions that can be summarized as follows:
Form of Struggle
The Merger Conference discussed in great depth and detail on the best available means of achieving the objectives of the party and adopted the following resolution:
In principle, we believe in nonviolent and democratic means of struggle to remove the present dictatorial regime in Eritrea. However, given the belligerent and violent nature of the current regime in our country, we believe the success of our party strategy not only depends on the safety of our party and its members from being the victims of the PFDJ while conducting their political and organizational activities inside Eritrea, but also necessitates that as the struggle progresses through different phases, our party shall have the right to resort to flexible self-defense tactics, as necessary, to achieve its strategic objective through nonviolent and democratic struggle.
PFDJ’s Resettlement Policy and the Question of Land
The Merger Conference studied the illegal resettlement and eviction policies of the dictatorial regime, and believing that all such policies are harmful to social harmony, peaceful co-existence, and the future prosperity of our people; it strongly condemned the ongoing land and resettlement policies of the PFDJ regime. The Conference further reaffirmed that the Eritrean people are the rightful owners of land in the country and that all land seized from the people shall be returned to its rightful owners through legal means in democratic post-PFDJ Eritrea.
The Merger Conference strongly believes that the open-ended national service program of the PFDJ regime, which is a slave-like forced labor scheme, has turned the national army members into prison inmates, as well as severely disrupted and wasted both the educational opportunities and the productive capacities of Eritrea’s younger generation. The national service program has further deprived Eritrean people of their dignity and humanity in addition to causing massive displacements and emigration of our people. The Conference condemns such state of unprecedented subjugation of Eritrean citizens and calls upon the Eritrean youth in particular and the Eritrean people as a whole to stand up for their rights and dignities and take active part in the effort of removing the oppressive regime from the grip of power. In this connection, our party:
- Believes in establishing, in the post-PFDJ period, of various programs that provide special educational opportunities as well as compensatory material benefits for Eritrean youth who spent endless years under the forced national service.
- The Merger Conference further confirms the need of establishing in the post-PFDJ period a pension scheme and the issuance of a retirement policy for Eritreans denied this right under the current regime. The party shall strive to see the legislation of such laws and policies based on comprehensive studies.
- Under a democratic Eritrea, participation in national service program shall be determined by a national constitution.
Eritrean Defense Forces
The Merger Conference noted with regret the fact that members of the Eritrean Defense Force (EDF), who are an integral part of the victimized citizens in Eritrea, have at the same time become part of an institution used by the PFDJ regime as a repressive tool inside the country and a force used in the unjustifiable armed conflicts ignited by the belligerent regime. In addition to using the army as a cannon fodder in its wars, the regime also uses EDF members as unpaid domestic servants of PFDJ officials and army commanders. No benefits or rank promotions were considered for this downtrodden and impoverished army whose human dignity had been belittled for over 18 years. The Conference called upon all members of the Eritrean Defense Force to stand on the side of the victimized Eritrean people in opposing the repressive regime in Eritrea.
The Merger Conference, having studied in greater depth the plight of Eritrean refugees, both those who are presently fleeing the country as a result of the PFDJ’s repression and those who had been refugees for decades in the neighboring countries, resolved to:
- Cooperate with concerned members of the international humanitarian community and Eritrean advocacy groups both in exploring all possible avenues to help and in drawing their attention on how to improve and alleviate the suffering of Eritrean refugees currently located in various refugee camps of Ethiopia and Sudan, as well as in several countries in our region.
- Raise the awareness of the international community to the plight of young Eritrean refugees who are growing up without proper access to education in various refugee camps of Ethiopia and the Sudan, including refugees not cared for properly in many Western countries. It further resolved to call upon the international community to take measures to provide young Eritrean refugees access to education, including conventional formal and higher education, and vocational training. In addition, the Conference pledged that the new party shall strive to draw the attention of the international community to the unresolved issues of the old caseloads of Eritrean refugees in the Sudan whose problems of status and livelihood have not been solved to this day. In the same way, the Conference called on the leadership of the new party and the national umbrella to make efforts towards assisting Eritreans on how to obtain their personal properties confiscated in Ethiopia during the 1998-2000 border hostilities between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
Eritrean Political Prisoners and Prisoners of Conscience
The ruthless and tyrannical policies of the regime have subjected the Eritrean people to widespread terror, killings, imprisonments, and gross human rights violations. The Merger Conference condemns strongly the violence, killings, and imprisonments the PFDJ regime is meting out against its own citizens as well as the grim situation afflicting the entire country. It strongly condemns the arrest and imprisonment of tens of thousands of Eritreans by the PFDJ without due process of the law; and thus declares the urgency of bringing the suffering of Eritrean prisoners to the attention of the international community.
Regarding the 1997 Constitution
The Merger Conference, having considered and discussed the relevance of the unimplemented constitution of Eritrea, resolved that the question on what to do with the 1997 constitution finds ground only after the fall of PFDJ. The option of discarding the document or accepting it in any form shall be left to the people to decide: either through a popular referendum or through its elected representatives.
The Eritrean Democratic Alliance (EDA)
The Merger Conference recognizes the Eritrean Democratic Alliance as a national umbrella for the Eritrean opposition camp. It also underlined the belief that bringing together parties with similar visions and programs strengthens the national alliance. The Conference further affirmed its loyalty to the letter and spirit of the charter and the political program of the Eritrean National Alliance, EDA. In this connection, the Merger Conference emphasizes the importance of the following principles:
- We believe member organizations should not violate the charter and the political program, and specific agreements of EDA. In the event of any violation, we expect the EDA to step in and take appropriate legal measures.
- We believe EDA is an institution or umbrella of diverse political organizations that work to promote their respective political visions. As such, they are independent political organizations that have full rights to conduct their political, diplomatic, public, economic and other related activities. The EDA is mandated to protect these rights of its member organizations, as stipulated in the common charter and program.
- EDA is the successor of the national umbrella, Eritrean National Alliance (ENA), established 11 years ago; however, it could not make great strides in a way that would bear pressure on the regime. The Merger Conference believed that the lack of mutual trust between member organizations has been the main cause of the ineffectiveness of EDA. The Merger Conference thus emphasized the importance of resolving their problems first and foremost as a key path in building a robust national umbrella.
The Border Conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia
The Merger Conference reaffirms its support to the final and binding decision delivered by the border commission. In principle, the problem should be settled peacefully and within the legal decision reached through arbitration. The Merger Conference further accepts communication between the two parties, so long it is agreed by both parties and attended by a third party, to discuss and reach a solution agreeable to both parties on how to improve situations and/or iron out disagreements that may occur during the demarcation phase.
Relations with Neighboring Countries
The Merger Conference condemned the belligerent acts of the PFDJ regime that caused armed conflicts with neighboring countries and governments; and reaffirmed the readiness of the new party to establish fraternal relations with neighboring countries based on common interest, mutual respect, and noninterference in each other’s internal affairs. The Merger Conference urged the new party to foster close and people-to people fraternity with the peoples of Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti and Yemen. The Conference further underlined the importance of healing past wounds and overcoming grudges created due to the border conflicts between Eritrea and its neighbors, and urged action by the new party leaders.
EDP organizational Structure
The EPDP understands that organization and clear lines of authority are essential to the success of the program adopted in the merger conference and to an effective method of development of party affiliates. Considering the fact only such an organization would lead our people to their long awaited victory over dictatorship, the conference adopted an organizational structure summarized in the following:
- A Transitional Central Council of 91 standing and 6 alternate members was formed by merging leadership members of the three parties.
- A 24 member Executive Office with a Chairman; a Secretary, and 9 heads of departments were elected by the Transitional Central Council to provide daily leadership of the party.
- A research and studies commission was formed to provide the party with strategic studies and policy recommendations.
- A performance control, auditing and supervision committee was formed to oversight the performance of the organization and address complaints of any member or EPDP institution.
- New offices were established at the executive level to address the issues of youth and women. Party women and youth leagues are expected to be founded soon.
- An office of political education and training was established for public education and leadership training
The organizational Chart below provides the various components of the party, how they are related to one another and the lines of authority within the party.
Eritrean Democratic Party