The Ethiopian parliament on Thursday appointed Birtukan Mideksa, a law professional who returned from exile a fortnight ago, to lead the electoral board.
Birtukan was one of the thousands of politicians imprisoned in the bitterly contested 2005 elections in which thousands were killed by security forces.
She has been nominated by the reformist and young Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who came to power on April 2. His numerous reform measures include the release of political prisoners, purging of old guards within the ranks of his ruling party, invite politicians in exile to participate in domestic politics and make peace with rebels fighting from neighboring Eritrea.
Birtukan's appointment was endorsed by a 745-seat parliament with four no votes and three abstentions.
The formation of an independent electoral body is widely seen as a key move to set the country on a democratic path. Abiy has promised free and fair election in 2020.
“The next election is considered a core measure for democratization in Ethiopia,” the premier told parliamentarians.
He described Birtukan as a woman of unbending integrity.
Yeshewas Assefa, chairman of the Blue Party, a prominent opposition entity, told Anadolu Agency: "In our view, the appointment of Birtukan Midekssa is an admission of the fact the National Election Board was favorably biased towards the ruling EPRDF party which won five fake national elections."