Letter from Ethiopia: Election 2010 Overview Part III – Eskinder Nega, Addis Ababa.

March 5th, 2010 Print Print Email Email

The Voter and “the Birtukan factor” (more…)

The Voter and “the Birtukan factor”

Here is the election form hell for the modern western pundit, journalist, commentator, politician and voter: an election without pre-election polling. Almost always halfheartedly dismissed by politicians, religiously studied by pundits and cited much too often by journalists, pre election polls gauge how voters are reacting to political parties and candidates in campaigns and what issues are important to them. Ever since the 1945 British elections, when the newly established subsidiary of Gallup accurately predicted a surprise Labor win over war-hero Winston Churchill, they have been generally accurate and indispensable .In short, no modern election should be without them. They are a legitimate and important source of information to voters, politicians, pundits and journalists alike.

But unlike the exhilarating 2005 elections, when the free press experimented with ingenuous polling, this year’s election, in perfect sync with its impassive tone (thanks to the election code of conduct, state media tells us) has yet to see its first poll. One reason is of course the absence of firms that are capable of neutral scientific polls, but a second, much more important– and menacing– threat has more to do with its total absence: the recognition by the EPRDF that polls conducted as an election proceeds work in favor of the party in lead, generating momentum and jolting the vote of its supporters to a new level of consequence. This is no mere paranoia. Polls had boosted the moral of the opposition in 2005; and in a first for the EPRDF (the TPLF in particular) ,had badly demoralized its supporters.

Though we do not have polls to show us the preferences, leanings, differences and concerns of the Ethiopian voter, that does not necessarily preclude the mapping of voting patterns based on precedent, gender, ethnicity, income, etc; which are more often than not accurate.

The average Ethiopian voter is young; around 50 % of the electorate is under 30. The 18 to 24 age group by itself is more than 10 % of the voting public; but this is hardly surprising for a country whose median age is 17 barely years. It is the under 30 age group, conspicuously those between 15 and 25, that protested the election results in the streets in late 2005; and if there are to be street protests again this year, which is unlikely but not impossible, it will be this group again that will battle against the security forces. It is also the group that the EPRDF has invested most heavily on for the past four years; by and large through training schemes and public works programs. In addition to a newly constituted youth wing of the EPRDF, a youth organization funded Ethio- Saudi billionaire Al-Amoudin had been created to stir this group away from the opposition after the post-election riots; though its efforts have been hopelessly compromised by a series of debilitating scandals. Fortunately for the EPRDF , however, unlike 2005, when the urban youth openly identified with the CUD, that enthusiasm for party affiliation is visibly absent this year; the lack of patience for deciphering the complexities that led to the fallout between CUD leaders even more pronounced. But this is a volatile group, there is no certainty with it, and EPRDF has organized an elite strike force tasked to make sure, in the event of protests, that its control of the streets will be shorter than it was in 2005.

The great hyped hope of the EPRDF in Addis Ababa, which will inevitably be closely monitored by international observers, is the women vote this year. Kebele cadres have been instructed to do everything to sway them, and many of them are opting for a career boost by delivering them.. Women are supposedly not paying much attention to the campaign, are less disenchanted than men, and are most likely undecided about whom to vote for. They are in effect the swing vote. It is also counting on between a fourth and a third of the city’s vote (calculating on the basis of the 2000 and 2005 election results), who will predictably come out in full force to vote come election day. This is the only section of the voting public that is thrilled about the election (EPRDF’s win is after all assured at the national level), is confident of its choice and is decidedly motivated by the opposition’s disarray.

EPRDF’s calculation is that with a split opposition, some of the women vote that went to the opposition in 2005, and a third of the vote that could be counted on, it will be viable in Addis.

But in all likelihood, the EPRDF is posed to lose the women vote in Addis because of what could be called “the Birtukan factor”. Many women speak sympathetically about the plight of Bitukan Medeksa, the imprisoned leader of UDJ, and most pundits are convinced that many more (men as well women) will vote for her party as a gesture of empathy and solidarity. Neither have empirical researches shown that women voters are any more politically ignorant than their male counterparts. Ignorance of detailed political issues is a feature of the electorate in general, with no great gender bias. The bulk of the Ethiopian public usually benignly abstains from closely tracking political issues, and is content to respond to cues issued by political activists. (And I fear that this true of the Diaspora, too)

The fancy strategies of the EPRDF notwithstanding, Addis Ababa will not vote for the EPRDF; however uninspired voters may end up being by the opposition. (The opposition may yet inspire, by the way. Two and half months are a long, long time in politics.)Merkato, the city’s business hub, in particular, is more, not less, anti-EPRDF, than it was in 2005.This is the section of the city that was brutally suppressed during the street protests in 2005, and the pain and bitterness still lingers.

EPRDF remains unpopular in the other major urban areas, too;the sympathy for Birtukan no less. But the EPRDF is not expected to concede all of them to the opposition as it did in 2005.Expect them to be the epicenters of controversy in the post-election period.

An astounding 85 % of the Ethiopian voter is rural based. This means roughly 25 million people this year, spread out over 1, 000, 000 sq. km; where every 50 households are now being monitored by new sub-level party and government structures set up after the 2005 election. (In an American or European context, this is equivalent to installing security cameras at every corner in the neighborhood for political surveillance.) Opposition presence had always been weak in the countryside, but their almost total absence so far, less than 90 days before election day, is truly disquieting.

Given the choice, rural voters will overwhelmingly turn against the EPRDF; who, from the perspective of the average farmer, has accomplished what everyone thought impossible: to be more intrusive in a farmer’s life than even the Derg.

Who then, entangled in such a life, would not crave his freedom

  1. tewbel
    | #1

    Thank you Ato Eskender, it is a very realistic assessement.

  2. Tulu Oda
    | #2

    This amounts to a subtle attemt by the writer to discourage the opposition.

  3. abysinian fox
    | #3

    eskinder is a real political pundit .i have never seen anyone else writing such well thoght analysis regarding ethiopian election.good job bro keep them coming.

  4. seifu
  5. Ferenj lebaw
    | #5

    Eskinder: I am starting to think you also are a messenger. What kind of evidence do you have to write that oppositions presence have always been weak in the rural areas? Have you been listening to the Kaeup radio? They seem to have a strong hold in the last election as well as today than EPRDF or any party. As a matter of fact, i heard their secretary saying that Kinijit was a weak party. Don’t hate Eskinder.They also represent the Ethiopian People’s need. We just want you to report the facts on the ground, particularly about UDJ. Maybe you should go interview the AEYP reps. and bring us the info about the rural areas. Don’t report like you know everything. Again Fact, Facts, Facts. Thanks

  6. Abebe Belaye, PHD SE, PE
    | #6


    Do Not Purchase Land in Oromia! Today´s Investors Will Be Tomorrow´s Losers in Ethiopia

    Dr. Muhammad Shamsaddin MegalommatisFebruary 28, 2010 One of the most shameful acts of 3rd millennium colonization in Africa is the unlawful sell out of Oromia land to illustrious businessmen and politicians originating from various countries. Introduced by the world´s most loathed tyrant, the Abyssinian Tigray Meles Zenawi, the measure is an impasse. The foolish investors, will simply lose their monies. This is an alarming warning:

    An Open Letter to the UN Secretary General was made public by the President of the US-based Oromo Studies Association (www.oromostudies.org) a few days ago, and presents a summarized account of the situation. The extent of the Oromo reaction cannot be correctly assessed thus far, it is clear for everyone Zenawi´s shameless interlocutors and foolish investors will simply lose their monies.

  7. the 3 eye
    | #7

    He is telling his own prediction-more truths and some beliefs.But as he has already wrote it..things maybe changed in the next two months.We Ethiopians really need to develop our curiosity about facts. He is trying to tell us “the facts of his research”-both the gov’t and opposition parties do not like it. i like such independent report!!

  8. Berhanu
    | #8

    Eskinder you have done a nice analysis but what fascinate me is that your analysis sometimes assumes that there is a small opening in running for election. In this term i differ from you ideas due to my experience during elections in the TPLF as well the junta regimes.

    Let i explain my election experiences during the junta regime even the workers,farmers,youth or women associations were formed. First before the elction people are hand picked based on their loyality to the ruling party and then the orchestration goes on and Mr./Mrs./Ms have to appear as well should be elected, if not numbers has to be rigged so that the result to be as planned.
    Saying shortly about the junta the only difference with TPLF is that first, the key positions are filled by the die hard Tigriyans while the others are given blessed posts as a hand out. Moreover the other organization of associations is the same script written during the junta regime and played by TPLF. Here i do not see any difference and it is the same side of the coin.
    What make an election democratic and fair is not just hearing daily it will be fair and democratic in the media but the eminent scenario should be supplemented by distinction among executive,judicial and legistlatives body and the neutality of the electoral board and the practice of the media without fear from the ruling party (TPLF).

    When all Ethiopians are said that if you do not vote for TPLF and its cronies you are cut from your employment,credit facilities, fertilizer and seed loan or even you are not given ID cards or you will be labelled as traitor or anti government or terrorist and put behind the bars or would be just killed in bars or streets or anywhere you are found election is EVICTION from your HUMAN RIGHT rights.

  9. Tulu Oda
    | #9

    It sounds like the writer is pro-Tplf spreading pessimism.

  10. Kuraz
    | #10

    Ato Eskindir: I have read all your pieces now and I can say with confidence that you are probably among the few top political analysts of the present day of Ethiopia. You are not expected to be neutral; however, your analysis is candid about the reality surrounding the opposition as well as the EPRDF. How sad to see that independent media and people like you are throttled by senseless media law.

  11. ethiopiawi
    | #11

    what so ever anybody says Ethiopia currently happens to be the most democratic nation in east Africa and also the economic giant in the area, thanks to our heroic prime minister and the liberating ruling party EPRDF.The world has seen that ,except the always blind opposition parties and the retarded diaspora.

    long live Ethiopia and the EPRDF and our Zenawi!!!!!!!!!

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