Election 2010 and its Implications – Tesfaye Tolla ( Sidist Kilo)
Even though the result of this election was a forgone conclusion I personally didn’t expect that it will turnout to be such a big sham: I mean a 99.63% landslide, not even heard in the most recent corrupt election of the lawless Afghanistan. Ever since the biggest upset of the 2005’s election EPRDF was campaigning and doing its ‘homework’: passed repressive press, terrorism and civil society laws; imprisoned Birtukan, the most popular and promising leader; used food aid, fertilizers, public sector jobs, scholarship offers, access to credit and participation in microenterprise sector for political purpose. The very participation of opposition parties in such closed political environment has been criticized by many. Despite these warnings the opposition group went ahead hoping to use the narrow openings. In addition to narrow political space the opposition group this time around were not as strong and organized as 2005. But, even with all their problems, their chances of winning, at least, in constituencies where opposition figures competed was very high. The way the election was conducted and the result of it has lots of implications. Below are some of my takes.
Lidetu and his party, EDP
Among the most unexpected casualties of this election is probably the controversial politician, Lidetu Ayalew. Despite the biggest favor he did in dividing the then Kinigit at the time when the regime was in a serious trouble and having served the last five years as the opposition of opposition parties EPRDF, like what it did to so many others before, threw him under the bus. I know many people, me included, are happy that we won’t see him making his trademark ridiculous speech from the parliament anymore. It was a widely accepted notion that he would be among the very few opposition to be allowed to have a seat in the next parliament. To the surprise of many the result turned out otherwise. Rumor has it that he might still be offered some governmental post. But, given the history of the regime I am of the opinion that it is unlikely.
If EPRDF had intended to have some opposition parliamentarians they would have let the election in his constituency be free and fair (at least he said it wasn’t) or manipulate the numbers to put him ahead. The fact that either of these didn’t happen clearly indicates that EPRDF had planned to wipe out all opposition candidates. It is the ‘big lie’ theory of EPRDF at works; if we win with a very big margin or make big lie people will somehow believe that it can’t be rigged like this and the opposition will be humiliated and won’t call its supporters to streets to contest the results. That is why I don’t buy the idea that supporters of the regime are floating as if the election result has even surprised EPRDF. It is all planned to have a singleparty state where even the service of the likes of Lidetu and the longest ‘serving’ opposition parliamentarian, Professor Beyene Petros, is not needed anymore.
Logically, to give a seat for a person who did nothing but opposing the opposition in the parliament where there are no more opposition parties is in fact worthless. If he is willing to be humiliated again they might need his advice in the issues of national concern as Meles mockingly stated in his election victory speech. The lesson we can take from the case of Lidetu is that EPRDF, as it did again and again, has mastered not only dividing but also systematically isolating individuals and parties from the public. This reinforces the long held view that EPRDF doesn’t have the word ‘compromise’ in its dictionary. If it ever appears doing so it must be to diffuse tensions or buy time and to reemerge more repressive than before. My take on Lidetu in particular is just to show how uncompromising the regime is even to someone who has almost become one of them. Other than than, like many others, I have never taken him seriously as an opposition after 2005.
The very bad performance of EDP at polls is another reminder that, however skewed the playing field was towards the incumbent, voters did take their time to punish those who betrayed them. Despite the easy ride they had in the run up to the election, in nearly all of the polling stations of Addis Ababa, EDP didn’t receive more than 3% of the votes. The same is true with Hailu Shawel, who gave a decisive political victory for the regime by signing the useless election code of conduct. Even if the election was as open as it was in 2005 the fact that many opposition parties fielding candidates for the same seat could have given an edge for EPRDF by simply splitting the votes. The message is again: united we stand, divided we fall.
Meles and the West
Meles has tested the west in previous occasions and learnt that what matters most for them is who can keep the seemingly divided nation living with hostile neighbors stable. That is why Meles and Co. are unreasonably obsessed and desperate to avoid any possible violence after the election. What concerns them most isn’t the way election was held but what happens after that. They have concluded that so long as they can keep the country stable by any means the pressure from the west can’t go far from press conferences and releases. In the immediate aftermath of the election we will obviously hear mild condemnations from here and there. Meles will hit back aggressively, as he did in his victory speech and in the press conference that followed.
He knows that in the rigged election of 2005 the pressure and condemnation, though it was short lived, came only after hundreds were gunned down. Even then when it faced the harshest criticism, the real impact on foreign aid that the country received was insignificant. Some countries declared that they will withhold aid. But, none of it lasted long, though the regime became much more repressive. The form of aid was changed for a while. The notable example in this case was the World Bank’s fund for service protection, which was redirected to regional governments instead of the federal government. This, for a nominally federal but highly centralized government, was like taking the money from one of its pocket to the other.
Given the geopolitical importance of Ethiopia, Meles knows well enough that the threat from the West in most cases isn’t real. So long as terrorism remains the main concern of the west and the situation in Somalia continues to be volatile his democratic and human right record will remain untouchable. To understand this just see any news from western media outlet about Ethiopia you will find either in the beginning or closing lines words such as ‘Meles a key ally in the war on terror’. And, he also knows that in the eyes of the West the very fact that a destitute country like Ethiopia holding election every five years is a progress by itself.
If things don’t work well with the west as he learnt from his friend, Al Bashir of Sudan, and other African dictators there is always China to turn to. There are those who argue that Ethiopia doesn’t have natural resources to attract the attention of China like others. But, China also needs a market to dump its cheap products. Ethiopia, with a population of over 80 million people, though its purchasing power is very limited, still can be an attractive business partner. And, ideologically Ethiopia is becoming much closer to the totalitarian communist China than the West.
Even though Ethiopia has become much more dependent on foreign aid, especially to shore up its foreign currency reserve ( all the foreign currency earned through export can only buy oil imports), understanding the limits of Western pressure Meles is emboldened to appear a naked self: a totalitarian revolutionary democrat who never believed in multiparty system. This is the clearest Meles has ever gotten since he came to power. Revolutionary democracy principally believes that there should be a one party rule for indefinite period of time. Taking that a little further he has turned the country into a one man, one party rule. In the past, in order to appease the West and disguise his inner beliefs, he has contradicted himself and introduced a multi party system. Now, backtracking on all of that he has become nothing but Comrade Mengistu with plain clothes: a totalitarian with no tolerance for any decent.
No matter how unhappy the west may be the result of the election won’t be changed and the effect on foreign aid, if it ever does, will be negligible. Meles will insist that the result of the election is the reflection of his ‘extraordinary’ record of economic growth, though that remains contested. The maximum the West can get from him is a promise to open up the political space for the next election and to release political prisoners. Yes, we might see things opening up for a while but to find ourselves in the same situation come the next (there is always next) election.
Despite his claim to have ‘tons of evidences’ he has already dropped the planned prosecution of opposition leaders after the election. In attempt to divert the attention he will bring up the case of Birtukan. Softening his stance on her, in his recent press conference, he has confirmed that ‘the pressure is mounting’ but ‘he will keep on resisting’. This response pals in comparison with the angry response he has been giving all along and the fact that he had declared her case as a dead issue. The Reporter, staunch supporter of the regime, in its editorial has recommended her release as a good will gesture to smooth the relationship with the opposition. And, reports indicate that the good professor, Ephrem Issac, is back again as the face saver of the regime and to restart the mediation process. It will be the same old game all over again.
Going forward, I don’t think that a party that didn’t want to concede a single seat for the opposition, which might have been even helpful for itself, will compromise on any other important issues. Multiparty system and the idea of change through election as we know it is over. No one will come to our rescue. This is the time that the opposition and concerned citizens should get their acts together find other alternatives. If not the worst is yet to come. EPRDF’s machine is already at work to divide the opposition. Ethiochannel, the weekly Amharic newspaper, another mouth piece of the regime, had four stories all targeted at dividing Medrek. What are their options then? First, they shouldn’t give recognition to this election under any circumstances. The election was not free and fair. Second, they shouldn’t join the socalled Forum for Political Parties that Meles is cooking to neutralize his critics, unless EPRDF makes credible offer on the eight point preconditions set by the then Kinigit following the rigged election of 2005. The history of the regime tells us that it won’t make any concession. That should leave the opposition with only one option: to declare that the business of election has reached a dead end. The remaining viable option for us will then be to throw our support behind those who have already started challenging the regime by all means. The message of the election comes down to: shut up or get up.