Tigray, a ‘Battleground State’ in Ethiopian Elections – Peter Heinlein (VOA)

May 5th, 2010 Print Print Email Email

Ethiopia’s sparsely-populated Tigray region is shaping up as the focal point for the May 23rd elections for parliament. Tigray contributes only 6 percent of Ethiopia’s 80 million people. But, it could hold the key to the country’s political future.

Tigray might well be called Ethiopia’s battleground state, in more ways than one.

A homegrown rebel group, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF, waged a guerrilla war in the 1970s and 80s that toppled the country’s Soviet-backed military regime. During the war, Tigray was the epicenter of a famine that killed as many as a million people. It was also the front-line state in a war against Eritrea from 1998-2000, which claimed another 70,000 lives.

Today, the TPLF’s leaders are Ethiopia’s leaders. They comprise the core of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), starting with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

But with elections 2.5 weeks away, Tigray is again a battleground. After 19 years in power, the ruling party is facing its first significant electoral challenge in its stronghold. Moreover, it is a challenge from within, led by members of a breakaway TPLF faction.

The opposition’s attack is aimed at two sensitive and emotional issues: the concept of Revolutionary Democracy that is the heart of the ruling party’s ideology; and the troubled relationship with neighboring Eritrea.

Opposition spokesman and candidate for Tigray’s regional parliament, Berhanu Berhe, calls Revolutionary Democracy a Marxist-Leninist recipe for a one-party dictatorship.

“Revolutionary Democracy is an ideology that categorizes society into class. Then some of the classes are enemies, the others are friends,” said Berhe. “That is class analysis. And this class analysis is basically Leninist policy. Then this policy will crush the enemies using the friendly classes, and this does not work. The failure of the Soviet Union was this.”

Aregash Adane was one of the TPLF’s top women fighters during what is known as the ‘armed struggle’. She is the opposition candidate challenging Prime Minister Meles.

Aregash once shared the dream of a revolutionary democratic state bringing justice and economic development to Ethiopia. She says 19 years of bitter experience has shown otherwise.

“We have to learn from our experiences. This is not a short period. And I do not think this Revolutionary Democracy will bring basic change in our country,” she said. “It has proved a failure. Do we have to stay another 19 years to understand there is a failure in our country by the leadership of Revolutionary Democracy.”

Criticism of Revolutionary Democracy infuriates ruling party officials. They call talk of dictatorship a ‘ridiculous allegation’ for which opposition leaders may be called to account after the election.

TPLF political chief, Tedros Hagos, says the question of who is right and who is wrong will be decided by voters.

“They have to prove why EPRDF is a dictatorship. It is an elected party. Ultimately, who’s going to judge whether this government is a dictator or not is the people,” said Tedros.

Tedros accuses opposition groups of making outrageous allegations to whip up passions among their supporters.

“They think allegation is a campaign tactic for their ultimate strategy, a strategy to instigate violence,” said Tedros. “To remove the EPRDF through street violence.”

Opposition leaders categorically deny favoring violence. They say any outbreak would be a setback to their strategy of building a strong base in the ruling party’s back yard.

The ruling party has pledged to keep the peace, and authorities have invested in riot gear they hope will quell any threat to public order.

Nevertheless, a drive across Tigray revealed clear evidence of rising tensions. Virtually every opposition campaign poster had been torn or defaced, even in areas considered opposition strongholds.

A few scattered incidents of violence have been reported, one of them fatal. But police say they are prepared to prevent the kinds of protests the ended in violence following the last national election in 2005.

Tigray is again a battleground, but as in the past, the TPLF is expected to emerge victorious. Given its near total control of the government, experts say the region’s ruling party could sweep the boards.

The opposition is hoping it can awaken a sleeping giant of anti-government sentiment. But even its staunchest supporters understand this struggle is about building for the future. They may dream, but the most they can realistically hope for is to live to fight another day.

  1. Aba Biya Abba Gobbu
    | #1

    We wish and hiope the Tygryan brothers and sisters who responsible for Ethiopia can and shall contribute to the liberation of Ethiopia. It is sad and sorry that they did nothing so far. It is time for them in participating in to the liberation of their Ethiopia by intimately working the other groups. So far they betrayed their mother land.

    Ethiopia Prevails.

  2. Wow!!
    | #2

    It is the reality of in Ethiopia at the moment. For the gov’t to lose election is just like saying 1+1 = 0. We are too selfish to stand up for our right and freedom. We have no one to blame, except ourselves.

    Good luck with Melese dictator regime for another 5 years if not 20 more years.

  3. Ferenj Lebaw
    | #3

    I am laughing hard. Voice of America is Jammed by TPLF but we have an American from the same jammed station writing about Ethiopian politics propagating how Tigray is going for the TPLF. This is an advantage for the dictator that allegedly blocked Peter’s VOA. How Ironic? Do you Ethiopians see the game? It is right in front of your eyes. Meles the GERDAME and Peter the servicer are hired agents. Period…. What more evidence do the Ethoipian people want? Well, I guess the Ferenj is not that smart after all. How do you like me Weyane Lebaw?

  4. aha!
    | #4

    This anchorman hit the nail on the head, when he frames of Tigrai as a battle ground for TPLF/eprdf against its rivals, be it Siye Abraha Gebru Asrat or the others within eprdf fighting for the vote of the people of Tigrai, where the ones from within challange eprdf for its marxisist and Lenniniist ideoplogy and Mederk challanging it for differences in the way it is handling the adminstrative process and the economy, wherby both are holding on to to the ethnic boundries, ethnic fedrelasim and/or seccessionism, where Medrek implicietly supports as Tigrai-Harena/ fdd/efdr/efudr as its trade mark. Outside of the scramble for Tigrai peoples votes are the KAEUP, EDP, and others standing in contrast to the other two factions for unity, territorial integrity, sovereignity of Ethiopia and Ethiopians to be later handled by legal and diplomatic means once I believe liberal domocracy and /or ideology takes a foot hold and individuals are free and empowered to participate in a fair and free election process, I pesume, which is brought about by the effoets of KAEUP, EDP and others participating in the Code of Conduct Agreements.

    The votes for Siye Abraha goes for Medrek in the name of UDJP, and Vote for Gebru Asrat goes for Medrek and the vote for the others fom within eprdf goes for eprdf, thus cosolidating the vote from Tigrai into the parties that are the two sides of the same coin, and the vote for UDJP in the Amhara region also goes to Medrek which is the sides of the
    same coin with TLF/eprdf as Tigrai-Harena/fdd/efdr/efudr from its basic structure of ethnic-based agenda. I put the those teletafi parties , new and old in small case lettrs to signify their role as a cover for TPLF and Tigrai-Harena, respectively, and thus justifying Tigrai as a battle ground only to to consolidate power within the two sides of the same coin. UDJP wearing towo hats one for ethnic and other for the national agenda is only garnering votes for the other side of same con with TPLF/eprdf. While Ginbot-7 faction of armed struggle holds on to the notion, ‘the enemy of your enemy is your friend”, the same notion seems to apply for those core party members in UDJP. Under such scenario, its effect on contributing to the goals for unity, territorial integrity, sovereignity, sovereignity of Ethiopians may have diminished and is embroiled by internal turmoils for joiningvs not joining Medrek. Such disinctions are not clear to foreign correspondents because of uniqueness of Ethiopian politics, which separates the country into ethnic boundries, ethnic fedralism, rather than state fedreralism, with Eritrea included, and lingering on seccessionist rights, upheld by these factions including TPLF/eprdf.

  5. atuba dolla
    | #5

    Ethiopians have had a habit of making history;Ethiopians don’t lie;the enemy does.All the enemies that attempted to have conquered Ethiopia never had succeeded at all,and never even had built tombstones on their bodies.

    Years passed since Zinawians declaredd war on Ethiiopia.When the enemy came into Ethiopia,it had millions of dollars in seedmoney stolen from the hungry mouthes of children and the elederlies and guns and bullets purchased with carity money.The enemy quickly moved into villages,towns,cities,and the neighborhoods and broke into homes and vandalised the lives of familites.

    But the enemy never had been able to distinguish the falme within the hearts and minds of Ethiopians.Ethiopians crushed the enemy to its complete defeat in 2005.Guns and bullets don’t vote people do.This is why the enemy shall be defeated twice in the coming 2010 election.A number of experts both within Ethiopia and outside Ethiopia felt that this election would not be fair and free.

    Zinawi never has a choice but options;the option of using guns and bullets to kill Ethiopians.Zinawi dispatched armed cadres allover Ethiopia to amubush voters and steal their vote.He did it in 2005 and will definitely do it this time too.Guns and bullets don’t vote people do.Ethiopians will never vote for the enemy whose agenda has been for the distruction of Ethiopia.This is why Zinawi shall kneel down to his complete defeat on that day,the day when Ethiopians say NO to the enemy in unision.

    Victory for all Ethiopians across the global communities.Amen.

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