By Kadiro A. Elemo*
Election should be at the heart of viable democracy. By election, we are talking about fair and free election whereby the culture of open political debate prevails as opposed to pretentious election meant for donor consumptions. This means there should be freedom of press and freedom of speech. Mass Media should be free from sole manipulation of the government. It is also important to do away with unfair election rules that otherwise hamper the achievement of oppositions or at least pose procedural formidability.
The ruling party and/or the government should not interfere with campaigns which include among other things, harassment or killing of candidates, suppressing campaign actions, closing campaign headquarters, criminalizing campaigning, harassing or beating campaign workers. The election must also be free from intimidating voters, tampering with the election mechanism, i.e., confusing or misleading voters about how to vote, violation of the secret ballot, ballot stuffing, tampering with voting machines, destruction of legitimately cast ballots, voter suppression, fraudulent tabulation of results, and use of physical force or verbal intimation at polling places.
As history witnesses and experience demonstrates, elections in many African countries are far from fulfilling minimum thresholds for conducting of fair and free elections. In many countries, it is unlikely for the people to find their leader from the ballot box. However, recently we are observing the spark of genuine democratic elections in some countries in Africa. In 2002 presidential election in Kenya, Mwai Kibaki won the election by defeating Uhuru Kenyatta of KANU. In 2007 general re-election made between President Kibaki of the ruling party and Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), the election was believed to fall short of meeting international standards of fair and free election. The news of rigging of the elections coupled with the prevailing unaddressed injustices in the country resulted in chaos and bloodshed in the nation. Later on the problem was tackled as President Kibaki, who betrayed a fair and free election which brought him to power, reached an agreement with Raila Odinga to form coalition government in February 2008. President Kibaki at least tried to heal the democracy he wounded in Kenya.
The other controversial election was the 2008 election of Zimbabwe. This election led to a long battle between Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change and Robert Mugabe of ZANU-PF. The two embattled parties have come to agreement and the opposition leader has sworn as the prime minister of the country. It is also part of our fresh memory how Ghanaians had a wonderful democratic transition without the election being orchestrated by any violence.
Whenever we see a successful election in Africa and elsewhere or whenever we see rigid dictatorial regimes ameliorating their positions and form the government of the national unity with the opposition they were demonizing and persecuting, it is our natural instinct to feel when we will have that kind of democratic transition in Ethiopia or at least that sort of mitigated solution? These days we are pondering in one way or another when Ethiopia will have Ghanaian type of election? Wee are also pondering why the aftermath of election in Ethiopia is often so bloody? Why the ruling party and the opposition parties fail to reach on amicable solutions even after violence just like the case in Kenya or Zimbabwe? We also pondering whether 2010 election is as a usual shame election or going to be little bit different from the trends we witnessed under EPRDF/TPLF regime. At any rate, we wish about the coming of the day when we shall have a fair and free election that allows political participation of all political forces in Ethiopia. In my view, all these questions boils down to whether there will be a possibility for the eventualization of fair and free election under TPLF/EPRDF regime?
Election under EPRDF Ethiopia: Genuine?
Upon the inauguration of its power seizure, one of the promises the TPLF/EPRDF regime made to Ethiopian peoples and the international community was—it would realize human rights regime and democratic transition from the bullet to the ballot. Consequently, EPRDF pretentious rhetoric about democracy and human rights built optimism among Ethiopians and the international community about the improvement of human rights situations and the pace of democratization. However, the expectation commenced to dash immediately when the Ethiopian government terribly harassed the opposition and rigged the election held for Councils of Representatives in 1991.
In 1994, the first election that was boycotted by the opposition parties was held and EPRDF won EPRDF election with the landslide victory. This culminated in a simulated and symbolic transition of EPRDF Ethiopia from Transitional Government to the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE). In 2000, in the so-called first multi-party election in the history of the nation, EPRDF was reelected to rule the nation.
In March 2005, Ethiopia undertook highly campaigned and contested regional and national elections in the history of the country. Although the election did not get the attention of the marginalized ethnic groups such as Oromo and Somali because of the exclusion of their main parties, it allowed the participation of the opposition parties operating in Ethiopia and secured 90% turnout of the registered voters. The election showed a tremendous achievement of the opposition parties: an increment from 12 seats to more than 170 seats, and CUD wiped out EPRDF from the Municipality of Addis Ababa City. The Carter Center called the voting stage as a commendable and post election-counting process as disappointing. The finding of the European Election observers also indicated that the election shy of international election standards.
In the meantime, Ethiopian Prime Minister declared the state of emergency that bans all forms of freedom of assembly and association on the very night of voting day. The Executive Committee of the ruling party declared winning the election on the next day, before the counting and tabulation was finalized, in contravention with the mandate of the National Election Board. When the election results were made public, the opposition supporters went to the streets to protest the result of what they called rigged election violating the ban on demonstration. The government reacted by gunning down 193, wounding 763, and incarcerating 30,000 civilian demonstrators giving them the plate ‘individuals motivated to dismantle constitutional order by the street action’. The government further alleged that the victims were people who were killed in the course of looting banks and private properties.
After the U.N. and donor countries expressed their concern about how the government securities handled the matter and requested an independent probe into the issue. As per the demands of the intentional community, the Ethiopian Parliament created an independent inquiry commission of eleven individuals, which were mandated to make inquiry as to “whether the measures used were excessive or not” rather than questioning the very constitutionality of the measures and this gave prima facie justification for abysmal disregard for the dignity of human dignity. The findings of the Commission concluded that the force used was excessive and the ways the detainees were handled was unconstitutional. The Report also unearthed the intentional mass killings of the detainees at the Qaliti concentration camp.
While the Commission was on preparation to present the truth to the Parliament, the Prime Minister reprimanded them to reconsider the report. The Chairperson of the Commission and his Deputy was adamant to surrender to the persistent threat from the Office of the Prime Minister. With escalation of the intimidation to the extent of jeopardizing their lives, they decided to leave the country, and later, the news rocked the government. In no time later, the government reshuffled the Commission members to rewrite the report in the way that fits the government propaganda consumption. The reshuffled Commission came with the report that is at the different web length with the previous one.
Hence, it goes without saying that the elections so far held proved the recalcitrance of the government to bring abut its vociferous promise of democratization and supremacy of law. Ostensibly, experiences demonstrate government grip on the bullet as it denied the Ethiopian peoples the right to find their leader from the ballot box as elections are quite often accompanied by voter intimidation, opposition harassment, ballot box stuffing and stealing, and bloodsheds and blood bathing since the government is concocted on the Mao Dictum of “Legitimate power comes from the barrel of the gun”. I will treat in a piecemeal fashion why fair and free election is hard to be achieved, if it is not total impossibility, under TPLF/EPRDF Ethiopia?
The Marxist/Leninist Root of TPLF and the Idea of Revolutionary Democracy:
TPLF, the nucleus of EPRDF, was an Albanian Model Marxist-Leninist guerilla group which came to power in the era of disintegration of communism. The Marxist-Leninist root of TPLF is inimical with the very underlying rationales of liberal democracies such as multi-party system and periodic election. Upon ascendance to power, TPLF transformed itself to the notion of liberal democracy since that was the political order of the day, what Fukuyama dubbed as the “Last Man”. The Marxist ideology embedded in TPLF manifesto is a serious stumbling block for flourishing of the notion of the minimum civility that various parties can live under a democratic umbrella maintaining their differences. Accordingly, in the way similar with the philosophical underpinnings of one party rule, the so-called an proletarian dictatorship, EPRDF embarked on the political concoction of democratic centralism, one strong central party, by dismantling other oppositions and suppression of dissent voice even in EPRDF itself under the pretext of bringing economic development and political stability to the country. The elimination of the viable oppositions such as OLF, ONLF, CUD, and others from Ethiopian political contour and the cloning of their substitutive parasitic organizations emanates from this fundamental communistic orientations.
Let alone, allowing the flourishing of multiparty democracy, TPLF philosophy of revolutionary democracy hardly allows democratic options within the ruling party. In EPRDF traditions, dissenting within the party itself is considered as aberration and crime. Hence, the dissident has to undergo a political self-mortification process known as gille-his and inquisition process called gimgema. That is why the elected EPRDF Parliamentarians neither abstain nor oppose any bill or agenda introduced by their party in the Parliament however they think it is detrimental to the public and repugnant to their conscience since loyalty to party is much more important than loyalty to the public and/ or once conscience. This is why there is no a prominent figure emerging under the leadership of Meles Zenawi in TPLF itself since the system has only a room for sycophants than to the challenger. This is why Meles eclipsed emerging personalities like the former Mayor of Addis Ababa. The lack of tolerance for diversity and dissenting opinion is the main cause for suicidal division within TPLF in 2001.
TPLF Considers Power as an Indemnity, Consolation for the Suffering Inflicted on Them Fighting against Derg, and a Reward for their Military Gallantry
Democratic cultural would hardly bloom so long as TPLF cadres have a mindset that Ethiopian peoples have to thank TPLF for the “spark of democracy” they saw as the result of TPLF indomitable struggle. Democratic election is impossible so long as EPRDF considers power as an indemnity and consolation for suffering inflicted upon them fighting against Stalinist Ethiopia. For fair and free election to come, TPLF should know that legitimacy to rule the nation comes not from military valor but from the consent of governed via ballot box. Nor power transition by the election is rolling out the red carpet for the opposition who did not, to use the jargons of cadres, “bleed or die” in the desert. Also, TPLF has to recognize that the fall of Derg was not simply because of their exceptional military ingenuity or gallantry but also because of lack of backing from the Ethiopian mass and natural death as the result of global phenomena of Stalinist States disintegration.
TPLF should also liberate itself from its parochialism that human rights and democracy is the gift of their struggle. Human rights are neither the gift of the government nor quid pro quo; rather it is endowment of nature, what human being is cherished with for simple reason of his/her humanity. This is the fundamental axiom that TPLF needs to know. As the Great Personality from the Great Nation, Thomas Jefferson said, these truths are self-evident,
We hold (they say) these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal. In what are they created equal? Is it in size, understanding, figure, moral or civil accomplishments, or situation of life? Every ploughman knows that they are not created equal in any of these […] That every man hath an unalienable right to liberty; and here the words, as it happens, are not nonsense, but they are not true: slaves there are in America, and where there are slaves, there liberty is alienated. If the Creator hath endowed man with an unalienable right to liberty, no reason in the world will justify the abridgement of that liberty, and a man hath a right to do everything that he thinks proper without control or restraint; and upon the same principle, there can be no such things as servants, subjects, or government of any kind whatsoever. In a word, every law that hath been in the world since the formation of Adam, gives the lie to this self-evident truth, (as they are pleased to term it); because every law, divine or human, that is or hath been in the world, is an abridgement of man’s liberty.
Projection of Future Trends:
It is inevitable that the TPLF will keep on venturing on its shame election since that is a best mechanism to fool the international community so that they remain blind about the egregious and atrocious human rights violations it commits on bovine Ethiopian mass as well as to procure funding. However, what TPLF Ethiopia need is an election that mandate TPLF to rule Ethiopia ad infinitum. That is, TPLF needs opposition that perpetuates the rule of the EPRDF indefinitely. Japan democracy is the best model for them. Japan is the country with multiparty democracy yet only ruled by one party. The Liberal Conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has been in power since 1955, except for a short-lived coalition government formed with opposition parties in 1993. The notion is, well it is not bad to have multi-party system in EPRDF Ethiopia because that serves as a mechanism to get assistance from Western countries. Yet, it is important not allow the opposition to rule the nation as that is in contravention with the idea of “developmental states”, the benevolent state that gives a “bread” and then “right”. That is why TPLF (after election crisis of 2005) obsessed in the rhetoric of which party is best in realizing fast economic development and lifting the nation out of poverty. Under this mindset it is difficult to expect that the 2010 election will be fair and free. In this connection, it is important that TPLF de facto head, Aboy Sibhat Negga, has made clear that mistake of 2005 election not happen again. He said “Never Again, Never Again.”
Meles: You Have Still an Option!
Now the reign of ruling the public in splendid isolation from their consent is coming to an end and your dictatorial friends such Mwai Kibaki and Robert Mugabe are mitigating their positions. You are now among long ruling incumbent head of state in Africa and if you keep your promise good you are going to relinquish power after this term. You can use the remaining part of your era to discuss how to bring a genuine democracy to Ethiopia with all your oppositions whether they are at home, in jungle, or in diaspora. You can end your long shameful chapter with magnificent end when you allow conducting a fair and free election that allows the participation of all political forces in Ethiopia. Please, Meles now you have cashed the history of ‘naftanya” and sought legitimacy to rule Ethiopia forever. History alone will not legitimize once rule. People need the government that deal with emerging exigencies. You have also used the tactic of fear mongering among Ethiopian peoples so that you are the only messiah in between them. Though you disregarded the Ethiopian people whom you consider as the legitimate source of your power, you worked very hard to win the hearts and minds of your donors and tried to be their loyal surrogate. You have also effectively used your last bullet, i.e. terrorism paranoia and hence you cannot fool the international community any longer. If you keep running your repression machinery intact, they will soon found out that you are now the lasting real Mugabe. Hence, the only chance you have is to allow a true election happen in Ethiopia? Otherwise, for now, you will be a step behind your good friend Mugabe and you remain the last shame for Africa.
Meles, you might think that it is juggernaut and insurmountable given that (you remember you called resilience of Ethiopian people a wave in a cup of tea), you have robust international support, economy, and all means of coercion including gun, but history shows sooner or later the demand of broad mass will find itself otherwise you live in a harmony with the public. Otherwise, your destiny is not any different from the one of Musharraf. You cannot govern in the “splendid isolation” from the consent of the governed, and it is crucial to listen to peoples’ grievances and opposition resilience.
Meles, the Ethiopian peoples are tired of going to the poll centers where some of their representatives are not on the ballot box or the elections are intended for window dressing. Ethiopians are fading up of façade elections and empty promises; and otherwise these trends averted it is difficult to vindicate the hope of Ethiopians in the ballot and democracy.
Meles, I know that you are Machiavellian than Machiavelli himself, but I am audacious enough to ask you to have a minimum sense of honesty, integrity, sincerity, trustworthiness, sense of justice, fairness, tolerance, broadmindedness and common sense in your political calculus so that at least democratic order and supremacy of law prevails in our country. Ethiopian peoples need tangible political change than mere pretentiousness, empty promises, obfuscations and treacherous responses: agreeing “in principle” and denying in practice. They are tired of empty promises and re-branding of the same old stuff. Meles, you have one chance to change your history. For now you are below Mugabe and you are number one worst dictator in the world for me, not 17th worst world dictator like the Parade magazine puts.
* Kadiro is a committed advocate for the rights of marginalized, disadvantaged, disfranchised, vulnerable and downtrodden segment of society. He is a host and a producer of Voice of Oromo Chicago (www.voiceoforomochicagos.com) that serves the voiceless, defends the dignity and fights for justice. He can be reached for comment, suggestion, or criticism at email@example.com.
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Gadaa.com.