Eritrea - Political parties

The Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) started the armed struggle for the independence of Eritrea in September 1961. In 1970, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) evolved from the ranks of the ELF with a new vision and program. Initially, both fronts intensified the war against Ethiopia. Both the ELF and the EPLF were mixed Muslim-Christian groups. However, they differed in the way they dealt with religious, ethnic, and regional differences inside their organizations. For example, the ELF organized itself into relatively autonomous separate units by regional, and therefore typically religious and ethnic, divisions. The EPLF on the other hand was comprised of units with mixed religion, ethnic, and regional backgrounds. By 1977, the two parties controlled most of the countryside. However, with their contradictions at the breaking point in 1978, the parties fought an all-out war against one another. By 1981, the EPLF had defeated and chased the ELF from Eritrea, leaving it the lone party operating in the country.

One still unsettled issue is the nature and role of political parties. The EPLF government has opposed the creation of parties based on race, religion, region, or ethnicity. A split between Christian and Muslim-based parties would be disastrous because the Christian-Muslim divide in the country is about fifty-fifty. The EPLF itself is a good example of a party free of religious, ethnic or regional basis. Since its inception in 1970, it represented a united front of people with very diverse political views who shared the common goal of obtaining the right of self-determination for Eritreans.

Following its defeat in 1981, the ELF leadership divided into more than a dozen different factions. Some ELF members joined the EPLF while others fled to Sudan. After 1991, most of the former leadership returned to Eritrea to accept positions in the government or to form businesses. Others continued to discredit the government from outside the country. The Eritrean Islamic Jihad, a militant terrorist group, is a notable example.

At its third Congress on 10–17 February 1994, the EPLF adopted a new name, the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) and committed itself to widening its popular appeal to all sectors of the Eritrean society. The National Assembly, dominated by the PFDJ, declared a ban on opposition political activity until the implementation of the constitution, thereby giving the PFDJ a monopoly on power. Though a political party law was drafted by a committee of the National Assembly in January 2001, it had yet to be debated and approved by the Assembly.

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