Ethiopian Election 2008: The Art of the Impossible – By Lakech A.

May 10th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

Recently Ethiopia was in the throes of another national election at the local and regional level. Can a country hold another election after the tragic miscarriage of the 2005 election? To answer this question objectively, it is necessary to go back to the 2005 national election and look forward from there. The 2005 national election was seen as an important watershed in the political life of the multi-ethnic nation since the basic ingredients of a fair and free election and widespread public participation were realized through the length and breadth of the country. (more…)

Recently Ethiopia was in the throes of another national election at the local and regional level. Can a country hold another election after the tragic miscarriage of the 2005 election? To answer this question objectively, it is necessary to go back to the 2005 national election and look forward from there. The 2005 national election was seen as an important watershed in the political life of the multi-ethnic nation since the basic ingredients of a fair and free election and widespread public participation were realized through the length and breadth of the country. The troubling undercurrents of dictatorial tendencies and undemocratic practices that were witnessed in the campaign and election phases were widely interpreted as inevitable hiccups that would come about even in well- established democracies.

Unfortunately, the enthusiasm and commitment of the ruling party for the institution of a vibrant democratic system of governance was a ruse. The public soon learnt that nothing had changed in the basic thinking of the new political leaders of the country. They were merely extending and mimicking the experiences of the difficult socialist period with a new democratic sloganeering. The positive readings that people had about the intentions and objectives of the ruling party were not only grossly mistaken as the incumbent party brought its true color to light by declaring itself a winner even before voting was completed. The bold experiment with democracy came to an abrupt and shocking end when the TPLF and its satellite parties claimed the majority of the seats in the national parliament. Most of the leaders of the opposition and thousands of their supporters were herded into prison under the most difficult conditions. The lives of 200 opposition members and policemen were lost in the dramatic crackdown that the incumbent party unleashed against a shocked and unbelieving population. Thus ended one of the most promising and daring experimentations in the institutionalization of democracy in an African country.

Today, the political situation in Ethiopia is no better than the days of the Dergue when no opposition to the ruling party was allowed. TPLF rules over a shocked, frustrated and extremely angry population. The abortion of a potentially useful democratic experiment has created a climate of apathy, fear and utter disgust with the politics of place in Ethiopia. The ruling elite was adept at hoodwinking the west by introducing elements of a superficial electoral democracy without changing its fundamental objectives of perpetuating a system of governance in which cynical and opportunistic elites will monopolize political power and access to the resources of the country without any competition from other forces. EPRDF is no longer a party that is in the democratic imagination of the Ethiopian public and it will only remain in power as long as it’s military, security and police forces will allow it to do so. Metaphorically speaking, it used a “double edged sword” in which it cut both its own throat and the throat of incipient democracy in Ethiopia. Appeals to ethnic pride and prejudice will not galvanize any support or sympathy from any quarter. From now on, the road to the institutionalization of democratic governance in Ethiopia will have to be charted on different premises and platforms. The widespread view that “bad governance is a natural condition in Africa not an aberration” seems to have been borne fully by the Ethiopian experiment with democracy. I do not believe that democracy can be institutionalized in Ethiopia as long as the current system of political predation mediates public life. Only opportunistic elements of society will participate in such a system purely for personal and selfish reasons. Civic action and meaningful public participation cannot take place in an atmosphere of fear, intimidation and utter disregard for the rule of law. If the results of the April 2008 elections mean anything, it is that corrupt leaders feed on the state and society in utter disregard for the wishes and welfare of the silently suffering majority. Posterity is not in the lexicon of dictators and Ethiopia’s case is not an exception.

The political ruse that EPRDF has designed and implemented in the country since it assumed power in 1991 has disaffected the vast majority of Ethiopians that it was resoundingly voted out of office in the 2005 national election. For all technical reasons, the Ethiopian people are currently being ruled by a defeated party and no amount of economic, political or social propaganda can change this grim reality. The election that is being stage-managed by the governing party today has no objective other than massaging the extremely bruised ego of the political leadership. It is a mechanical repetition of an expensive but meaningless electioneering that has no political, social and economic relevance and utility to the tyrannically run country and people. If the Ethiopian people are going to the voting stations, it can only be under the duress of the ruling party and not out of a desire to legitimize an illegitimate party. The party that shot and killed 192 peaceful demonstrators in broad daylight and imprisoned over 40,000 supporters of opposition parties has neither the moral high ground nor the legitimacy to organize any election in Ethiopia. It is an art of the impossible and the political leadership should know that the Ethiopian people are fully aware of it.

Those opposition members who joined the ruling party in the 2005 national election farce have had three years of a ride and none of them could bear witness to the vibrant democratic dialogue that mediated public discourse on anything important to the Ethiopian people during these years. Many of them joined the illegitimate parliament largely for opportunistic reasons and not out of the belief that they would contribute to the democratization of Ethiopian society. The decision of the political leadership of UEDF not to participate in the current (April, 2008) election is definitely the product of the experience that it garnered in the last three years. The leaders know that the ruling party does not believe in the institution of a pluralistic democratic platform in Ethiopia. Hence, it is the only honorable thing to do. They cannot feign lack of knowledge or goodwill this time around. Any opposition party that plays dead to the ongoing Stalinist regimentation of politics in Ethiopia is not worth the registration paper on which its name has been legitimized.

The basic objective of the current system of governance in Ethiopia is to use elections and other symbolic representations as means of driving a wedge between the various ethnic groups of the country with the ultimate objective of fractionalizing the politics and economics of place and playing a dominant role for an indefinite period of time. The Ethiopian people have unanimously voted that they are not a party to this destructive political exercise. The vast majority of Ethiopians are currently facing tremendous economic hardships as a result of the irresponsible and one-sided policies of the governing party. They are hungry and growing more and more indigent with every passing day. They have no use for an election that is neither free nor intended to involve the Ethiopian people in genuine democratic institution building and discourse.

To spend millions of dollars on an election that has no relevance to their lives is yet another manifestation of the callousness of the political leadership of the governing party.

It is an attempt to repeat another sad history of electioneering by people who have demonstrated utter disregard for public discourse and accommodation. The sacrifices that the Ethiopian people paid in the last 17 years of TPLF (EPRDF) governance were crudely and violently blown to the wind in 2005. Tyranny reigns supreme in present day Ethiopia. The hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians who sacrificed themselves fighting for their motherland were betrayed big time when their voices were quashed in an election coup d’ ?tat in 2005. The ethnic politics that has defined access to power and privilege in the unfortunate country since 1991 is destroying the fabric of the rich ethnic tapestry making up the country. The fractionalizing politics, the growing economic marginalization and social oppression policies and practices of the current government have alienated every sector of society to the point where national redemption may have been already compromised in the short and medium term. The ethnic politics of the ruling party has instilled fear, hate, nepotism, ignorance, opportunism and corruption as norms and virtues of public behavior and public administration.

The politics of intolerance was so vividly demonstrated in the 2005 election that no body has any doubt about the objectives and goals of the current election. If there are still doubters of the intentions of the ruling party, one can only wish them well. Everybody knows that Ethiopia is currently being ruled by an unelected party bent on staying in power no matter what the wishes of the Ethiopian people are. If this election proves anything, it is that the political leadership knows no bounds in its condescension towards the Ethiopian people. The bloods of the dead and the agonies of the living are too real and painful for any opposition party to engage in a meaningless election unless the objective is to dance to the political hymn of EPRDF. What Ethiopia needs now is not fake election. It is a total change of heart on the part of the ruling party to realize its historic mistake and submit to the will of the Ethiopian people. If the ruling party continues to be more beholden to foreign powers and aid agencies than to its own people, it should do it without using the canvas of a supposedly democratic election. Everybody knows that you cannot hold a democratic election under the current system of intimidation, coercion and utter disregard of the civil and human rights of the Ethiopian people. It is definitely the art of the impossible.

The preliminary results of the local and regional election bear eloquent testimony to the sad election reality in Ethiopia. How come that the 14 contested seats in Addis Ababa were all won by EPRDF when the party did not garner a single seat in 2005? Are we to believe that EPRDF has succeeded in endearing itself to the population through the eye-catching housing and infrastructure development of the city? Has the Addis Ababa population suddenly found out that the hyperinflation that has made life virtually impossible in the city, the result of greedy merchants, the machination of opposition forces, the wrath of God or other insane reason and not the failure of the ruling party’s insensitive macroeconomic policies and strategies? In the next few days, the Ethiopian public and the international community will no doubt be bombarded by 90% turnouts and 99% support for EPRDF members. The trouble is that the public does not give a hoot for the results of a forced election. Only demented minds and opportunists can feel empowered by the travesty. If they do, it is their business and we wish them well.

Who do you think are the Ethiopian People? They are not the dimwits that your twisted and hate-filled imaginaries caricature them to be. To them, this election was a sheer waste of scarce resources and public energy. The resource committed to this non-election would have been more prudently spent on controlling the hyperinflation by stabilizing the prices of basic commodities. Make no mistake about the 90% turnout of the electorate. If the electorate has gone to the polls in record numbers as your propaganda machines suggested, it was not out of a desire to endorse its tormentors. As a captive population, it had no choice and the turnout had nothing to do with popular consent and everything to do with the gross abuse of political power by a rejected, unrepresentative and unaccountable party holding an entire country hostage by sheer force of arms and unbelievable condescension towards the Ethiopian people. That is why we say that the election was a futile and wasteful exercise that could be summed up by the expression of “the art of the impossible”.

Long Live Ethiopia
Long live the Ethiopian People
Long live Democracy

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