Ethiopia : Why the ruling party wins again

May 24,2015

The number of political parties that took part in the Ethiopian election is well over 50 but the number could be tricky. Not only that many of the parties are ethnic parties but also they products of political maneuvers, much of which are not at all cunning, by the ruling party. Of course few of them have considerable political weights. According to information from ‘National Electoral Board,’ ruling coalition party – Ethiopian people revolutionary Front – which for sure is under the dominance of Tigray People’s Liberation Front- fielded a total of 1851 candidate for regional and federal seats in parliaments. Medrek, an opposition party, apparently fielded 909 candidates. Blue Party 343 and the rest of the parties fielded less number of candidates.

When the result of the ‘election’ is announced, as, inevitably it will, in three days, everyone gets it that the outcome will not be essentially different from the election five years ago ; that the ruling TPLF/EPRDF will be declared, with ‘landslide’, winner to rule Ethiopia for another five years.The question as to whether the ruling party will live to finish its term or it will be terminated in a political earthquake of sorts is a matter of speculation and it seems to me very likely as many are thinking in terms of armed struggle after learning the bitter truth, and the hard way, that peaceful struggle in Ethiopia is impossible due to the irascible and over repressive nature of the ruling party.

Probing why the ruling party is winning again, however, while it is a party with unprecedented legitimacy crisis in the history of Ethiopia is relevant – at least for those who are not familiar with the political landscape under which this years’ election, like the previous ones, is conducted.

Opposition party members have been subjected to harassment and intimidation during the course of undertaking election campaign in different parts of the country.In Tigray, which is the presumed to be the political base of the military heavyweight in the ruling coalition -TPLF, for example members of Aregna Tigray party were attacked, reportedly, by TPLF party youth group, sort of innovative repression from the perspective of the ruling party, while undertaking election campaign and their campaign car was vandalized, according to Voice of America Amharic Service report.

The condition is worse for other opposition parties. Chairman of All Ethiopian Unity Party (AEUP), Mamushet Amare, was taken from street in Addis in what,then,looked like a kidnap and was later reported to be in jail. In fact, as Charmian of an opposition party he was anticipated to make appearance in a televised debate. Members of this same party are widely abused in different parts of Ethiopia. There are even reports of death and brutal attacks not only members but also of party officials.

Semayawi party and Oromo Fedral Congress opposition party members and officials have experienced their share of repression with reports of arrest and widespread violent attacks.

Ruling party election campaign

Conceivably,the ruling party – TPLF/EPRDF- barely makes distinction between state and party. Resources that belong to the state are employed – with no reservation – for purposes of ruling party campaigns. State Television is virtually at the disposal of the ruling party at any time- and few minutes of air time given to opposition members is nothing compared extensive use State television and radio by the ruling party.

Yet, the ruling party does manifest signs of political insecurity. Campaign show staged at Addis Ababa Stadium ( watch video below) speaks volumes as to how the ruling party wants to be perceived – ‘intimidating.’

In the show, Tigray People’s Liberation Front guerrilla fighters styled youth group are seen with AK 47 battling against imagined “armed enemy” who are shown annihilated after the battle. One of the things that makes the show bizarre,in addition to its total irrelevance, is that none of the opposition parties taking party in the election should not have been represented that way which is what was reflected.

With regards to the voting day itself, reports emerging on social media from different parts of the country at this writing suggest practices of vote rigging, which is also a story of previous ‘elections’.

Institution

For many, National Electoral Board of Ethiopia is one of the ‘legal’ tools for the ruling party to repress opposition parties. It lacks the very attribute of what an institution like that is supposed to have ; impartiality.

Headed by Professor Merga Bekana whom many Ethiopians identify as a loyalist of the ruling party, the board does not have public trust as an independent entity.

It has its insidious way of obstructing ways for Ethiopian opposition not to function to their full capacity and in the interest of creating awareness about their party platform. In addition to formulating regulations that cripple level playing field for opposition,it works through cliques that penetrate opposition parties. Before the outset of election campaign,for instance, the Election Board snatched rightful opposition party status from rightful Unity for Democracy and Justice party officials and gave it to a clique formed within the party.

Press

Free press is crucially important, so to speak, for the people to make informed opinion as to which political party could bring about change,for the better, politically, economically or otherwise.

As well, it is a means, ideally, through which opposition party portray their political vision to the public. What happened in that regard is that the regime in power waged war against free press to the point that the very purpose of free press is inconsequential in Ethiopia. Many journalists have left the country fearing for their lives and/or to avoid jail. And many others are in jail already in jail. And those who are still hanging on in Ethiopia do have a burden of censoring themselves. In consequence, the very purpose of free press is defeated.

Election is a process

Election is a process. And, obviously, the outcome of the election is not a function of what happened during the voting day only.From what is observed in this election, much of the attack on opposition parties is done well ahead of the voting day.

The impact of the attack, both “legal’ and arbitrary and outright violence, against the opposition is not just that it left their members in a state of fear and uncertainty. The ruling party deliberately worked to make voting for the opposition, especially outside of the capital Addis Ababa,appear like a crime or enmity towards the ruling party.

So the election was not free and fair from the very beginning and the result is sure to reflect that.

Now, one may ask as to why the opposition did not ban an election under circumstances of repression and that is something only the opposition party should address.

Dimetros Birku

Can be reached on twitter : @dimetros

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