Outcome of Ethiopia's Upcoming Election - a foregone conclusion

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Tue May 17 13:21:34 UTC 2005

Forwarded from Nazret.com Ethiopian News Portal
 May 17, 2005

Outcome of Ethiopia's Upcoming Election - a foregone conclusion
By: Ermias Mamo, Ph. D

In less than 24 hours, Ethiopia's first well-publicized election will wind
down and the focus of the populace will shift on whether the election was
carried out fairly, whether all registered and eligible voters in the
country were able to cast their ballot freely without interference and
without intimidation, and whether the results reflect the true will of the
governed. International observers from various countries, including former
US president Jimmy Carter, are in Ethiopia to observe the electioneering
process and to take a position on whether the election was carried-out in
a free and fair manner or whether it was marred by irregularities and
violations of the covenants of a democratic election process.

Given this is the first internationally-monitored election held in
Ethiopia, its failings will likely be judged kindly by those tasked to
keep an eye on the sanctity of the process. It is important to note that
the presence of these foreign observers is only symbolic at best and does
not have the organizational arm to serve as an effective watchdog.
Majority of the voters in Ethiopia live in rural areas that is hardly
accessed even by donkeys and that is where the result of this and most
upcoming elections in Ethiopia will be determined.

Late results likely

It will probably be weeks, if not months, before the ballots are actually
hand-counted and the results are made known. Ethiopians need to prepare
their psyche for a long and agonizing wait and potential disappointment in
the accusation and counter-accusation that will likely fill the airwaves
after the winners are declared. Experiences of other developing countries
that have gone through similar political transformation indicate the delay
in tallying and pronouncing the results also opens the door for doubt and
potential fraud and will likely influence the outcome in favor of a given
party, most likely the regime in power. Considering this, the need for
citizen groups to guard the sanctity of the ballots cannot be
underestimated. Unfortunately, such grass-root organizations other than
those formed by the government are generally absent in the country.

Political awareness is on the rise

One thing certain is that the political climate in the country will never
be the same after this election. We have seen several phony elections in
the past twenty-plus years where the ruling party unashamedly claimed to
have received over ninety percent of the ballots cast in its favor.
Ethiopians will increasingly recognize the importance of active
participation in the political process and the need to hold their elected
officials accountable for the consequences of the policies pursued by the
leadership. Ethiopians will not allow any regime, present or future, to
goad them perpetually into political submission. There is an unbearable
level of poverty in the country, standard of living is continuing its
declining trend, and unemployment is one of the highest in the continent,
just to list a few examples of the issues we need to focus on.

No program of government

One thing sad about this election is instead of trying to communicate to
the voting public the political programs the parties contesting the
election are promoting to address the numerous economic, political,
security, and social problems the country is facing, the focus appears to
be in mud-slinging and spreading fear to divert attention from the real
issues that need to be discussed that ought to determine the outcome.
Ethiopia has not still achieved food security despite numerous public
statements our public officials made about bumper harvests. There are
major issues related to population growth, housing, agricultural methods,
means, and factors of production, lack of incentive related to the land
tenure policy the current government is pursuing ignoring numerous advices
offered to the contrary by both well-informed officials of domestic and
international organizations, corruption by public servants discouraging
investment by the private sector, public health issues that have increased
the mortality rate of the youth as well as the costs of caring for the
sick and dying, the effect of the language policy on quality of education,
the rights of minorities in the ethnic enclaves the government has
created, and the needs of our migrant workers especially in the Middle
East to get legal protection from the abuse they sustain in their search
for gainful employment, just to mention a few. These are the kinds of
issues that need to be debated about for which solutions should be
proposed for.

Fear of the unknown

In a recent speech at the launching of EPDRF's campaign, Mr. Meles likened
the opposition to that of the Rwandan Hutu criminals that slaughtered
their Tutsi countrymen by the hundreds of thousands as the rest of the
world resisted taking timely action. This is pure fear-mongering and an
attempt to scare the voters about what a government change might bring
about. EPDRF should focus on communicating what it considers are its
accomplishments and what it might do different if given another term in
office. The recent peaceful demonstrations in Addis by both supporters of
the EPDRF and the opposition have shown in clear terms the fallacy of Mr.
Meles' allegations regarding characterization of the groups that makeup
the opposition. Ethiopians are generally peace-loving people and
understand well that they can't resolve their political differences using

Term limit is needed

In fact, given our dictatorship experience, it is about time that we
consider including a clause in our constitution limiting the terms of the
president and the prime minister of the country. African leaders in
general seem to want to hang-on to power for as long as they can unless
they died of natural causes while in office or were violently killed. The
likes of Nelson Mandela are indeed a rarity.

Important lessons of this election

As imperfect as this election might be, it will nonetheless accomplish
several key benefits. Ethiopians will have a taste of contested elections
and their role in choosing and holding their leaders accountable, our
infant democratic institutions will also draw important lessons and take
measures to improve their chances of achieving better results in future
elections, it will raise political awareness about which issues are of
prime importance in general. The commission tasked to overseas the conduct
of this election should not be dissolved after the election is over and
the winners are declared. It should assess the events that transpired
during this last election and take steps to strengthen its effectiveness
in monitoring elections in the future. The lack of grass-root
organizations by the opposition will likely hurt its chances of unseating
the EPDRF in this election.

Concluding remarks

In my view, the best that can be hoped for in this election is to increase
the number of opposition members of parliament in the current assembly.
But the lessons the commission on free elections as well as the opposition
alliance drew from this political exercise will help especially the latter
in crafting strategy to communicate its program of government in future
elections and to consequently improve its chances of gaining political
market share. There is a lot of leg work that needed to form and
strengthen democratic institutions in the country to create a favorable
environment for higher contest of the votes at stakes.

17 May 2005 by Admin


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