Challenge of the Opposition in the 2010 Elections – Zerihun Tesfaye
Articles with varying opinions on the coming elections have been posted for the purpose of discussions by several authors in the recent past. For some reason and I say to my dismay, these write ups neither attracted sufficient responses nor helped initiate follow ups.
Some among the opposition in the Diaspora have mentioned a boycott or non participation as an alternative. Boycott however like any other action, needs a concerted and organized effort, if a beneficial outcome is desired. A mere non involvement by individual parties without organizing the people for such ‘in action’ is not a boycott; it is, instead, an abandonment of responsibility.
Many in the opposition believe the results of the upcoming elections have already been decided by the ruling group, and that, it will declare itself the winner in an election that is not going to be free or fair.
In my opinion with proper precautionary steps, vigilance on the part of the populace and the opposition and sufficient neutral observers, as was done in 2005, even an election that is neither free nor fair can be won decisively at some important localities including cities, regions . This outcome is not only possible, but if it comes to fruition will be a great moral victory to the people’s struggle and will create a fertile ground upon which future struggles could be conducted.
The experience of the 2005 national elections has proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt that the EPRDF could be defeated in a free and fair election. The experience of this same election also proves that winning elections and enforcing the results of such elections in countries like Ethiopia are two different things. In as much as enforcing results of an election in societies where there is institutional independence by election boards and the judicial system is a given, in repressive societies it requires the organizational strength and popular backing of the population at large to enforce results.
Parties or organizations that have chosen the route of peaceful struggle participate in elections as part of the general struggle and not as a ritual they participate every few years. In fact, those who participate in the peaceful struggle do realize that political and organizational work done in the interim is more important in solidifying the organization and its mass support than the work done in actual elections. It is during these election periods that they can gauge the work they have done up to that point and sum up their experience to better prepare themselves for future political and organizational work.
However, it needs to be noted that just because the opposition groups choose the route of peaceful struggle does not mean that the ruling group would make it conducive for them to do so. As has been evident in Ethiopia in the years since the 2005 elections, the EPRDF has been methodically pursuing a two pronged approach to on one hand attempt to disorganize and marginalize the opposition while simultaneously strengthening its organization in its desire to maintain its monopoly of power.
As it relates to the opposition, the EPRDF uses all weapons in its arsenal, from the courts to federal police to vigilante cadres and agents to split organizations as happened with ONC; jail leading party members on trumped-up charges as was the case with Bekelle Jirata of OFDM; re- arrest Birtukan Mideksa, leader of a new and emerging party, on the lame excuse that she denied her being released on a governmental pardon; delay or deny permits to conduct public meetings; sit for months on applications for the legal registration of organizations by the electoral board, as was the case with ARENA, and enact repressive laws limiting the role of NGO’s including the repressive press law and others that could be sited as potent examples of this approach.
As it relates to its own organization, the EPRDF has been making a concerted effort in the past four and half years to build up strength to further consolidate its hold on power. From a membership of less than 600,000 in 2005 it has now grown to 4,000,000 ‘members’. In the name of regeneration /tehadiso it conducted two to three day ‘voluntary’ conferences for two years essentially bribing the populace at large, in the guise of daily allowance for attending these ‘voluntary’ conferences’. These daily allowances in some instances were equivalent to a two-week pay to some of the attendees.
Some of the youth recruited during these sessions were organized into ‘independent’ small enterprises that are to be given work contracts by government decree from private enterprise. (The creation of these ‘enterprises’ reminds one of the disastrous ‘great leap forward’ garage factories [smelting pots, & pans that was supposed to catapult China into the Industrial age set up by the Chinese that created havoc during the 1950s’.)
To cover more ground it went into a recruiting frenzy in the high schools and colleges of the country, but mainly in the capital for members with the incentive of immediate lucrative jobs upon graduation. One can see how enticing this could be in a city where unemployment hovers around 40-45%.
Because of all of the above events many are of the opinion that EPRDFs wining of the 2010 election is a foregone conclusion. Most base their conclusion (in addition to all the coercive powers that the incumbent possesses) on the fact the Election Board and other institutions are not neutral and are indeed used in the service of EPRDF. They contend that this fact alone makes the election a lost case, forgetting that with proper precautionary steps, vigilance on the part of the populace and the opposition and sufficient neutral observers, as was done in 2005, an election that is neither free nor fair can be won decisively at some important localities.
In fact what all the above show is that peaceful struggle is arduous, not risk free, complicated and requires adeptness and commitment from those engaged in such struggle to untangle the roadblocks being erected by the ruling group. It needs to be abundantly clear from past experience that the accent on peaceful struggle is mainly on the struggle component.
In all fairness it has to be acknowledged that the opposition groups sometimes seem to equate peaceful struggle strictly with legal struggle and forget to fight for their legal rights when the ruling party denies or obstructs the exercise of such rights. For example it is proper and correct to ask the authorities to have permits for venues, but if the authorities do not cooperate, it is incumbent upon the opposition to somehow conduct its event with or without their blessing as long as it is done peacefully. It goes without saying that this might bring the wrath of the authorities, but it is the price that needs to be paid in order to advance the struggle.
It is within this context then that I would like to talk about the coming elections, which are only a few months away, and the possibility and the need for the opposition to win parliamentary elections in some localities particularly in Addis Ababa. .
Whether the opposition won the national elections in 2005, winning the majority of the seats for the national parliament, is not something all agree upon. However, that the ruling EPRDF including its then ‘popular’ mayor Arkebe of Addis Ababa suffered a humiliating defeat when the opposition CUD swept all but one of the seats for the local council and for representation of Addis Ababans in the national parliament was an acknowledged fact by all.
The EPRDF having learned from its defeat in 2005 has decided that the 2010 election will not include elections for the administration of the city, but rather has limited it to parliamentary representation. The opposition should not give in to the manipulations of the ruling party. It instead should use this insidious maneuver by the regime to its advantage. The opposition can participate and win to represent Addis Ababans in the national parliament as a prelude to wresting the city administration when elections are held in two years time.
It is important to remember that in 2005 elections the unique circumstances of Addis Ababa made it difficult for the regime to deny and or obstruct election results as it did in other places, and despite what has transpired in the past four years this still holds true.
Meles and his gang clearly understood this from the get go; that to lose Addis Ababa to the opposition was in fact to lose the election as a whole, for indeed in a certain sense, Addis Ababa is Ethiopia. That was why they did everything within their power to dissuade the opposition from assuming the offices they won.
However, most of the leaders of the opposition, being of the 60’s generation may have reminded themselves of the advisory caution that was used by progressive students to not wrongly equate Addis Ababa with Ethiopia and Addis Ababans with Ethiopians, for the rallying cry in those days was ‘land to the tiller’.
Today, though under the given conditions, it would not be considered wrong to suggest winning elections and effecting possible changes in Addis is tantamount to winning all over Ethiopia for Addis Ababa is indeed in a certain sense Ethiopia.
What I mean by this is very simple. Addis Ababa is the largest city in the country where over 40% of the country’s urban population resides. Addis Ababa is home to virtually all the different ethnic groups in the country. Addis Ababa is the seat of the national government, headquarters of the African Union and home to all the foreign embassies in the country. Addis Ababa also boasts the highest concentration of the educated class in the country and within its immediate environs has the highest concentration of industry in the country. It is all these factors which weigh heavily in its favor, that make me say that Addis Ababa is Ethiopia, and winning an election to represent Addis is almost tantamount to winning a national election to represent the people of Ethiopia.
As fractured and as ineffective the opposition might seem, in a free and fair election EPRDF will definitely lose in the national elections to be held in May 2010.It is also my contention that in unfair and a not so free election the opposition can still win the seats allocated for Addis Ababa and other metropolitan localities, for the disconnect between the EPRDF government and the Ethiopian people is wider today than was five years ago, despite all the efforts made by the ruling group to cow and or buy-off sectors of the population with its ill gotten riches from home and abroad.
The fact that the opposition needs to come up with a united stand, a front for action is not questionable or in doubt by anyone. That makes the need for sober and immediate discussion about the coming elections of paramount importance.