By Staff Reporter
August 10, 2019 (Ezega.com) – The day for the fifth national elections of Ethiopia is fast approaching. And members of different political parties are expressing opinions as to whether the elections should be conducted as scheduled. Some are suggesting that the upcoming elections should take place on schedule and as planned. Others are saying they should be postponed.
In a recent briefing to journalists, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced that his government is committed to conducting free and fair elections next year. To this end, he said, his government has allocated big sums of money. He also cited the new Election Board chairwoman, and previously opposition party leader, Birtukan Mideksa is working hard for the successful conduct of the elections by introducing a new electoral law.
"Had we believed in the postponement of the elections, we would not have allocated large sums of money for the electoral board. But it is also possible to form a constitutionally-mandated government if the elections are delayed," Abiy said during the briefing, qualifying his intentions.
Many believe the ruling party EPRDF (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front) has all the means to create a level-playing field where the upcoming national elections can be held peacefully. The government has the military and other resources and it can use all administrative infrastructures in place, down to locality (Kebele) levels, to successfully conduct the elections with the necessary logistics in place and without security problems.
Many countries with some level of democratic tradition have held elections, these people argue, even when faced with conflicts arising from competing political forces vying for power. By conducting the elections on time, they say, the government of Ethiopia can prove its commitment to democratic ideals and solve increasing tensions in different parts of the country.
However, there is a strong view that the ruling EPRDF prefers to postpone the 2020 elections because it has lost the confidence of its member parties to win conclusively the next regional council elections in their respective regions, which will put the coalition’s fate to win the general elections at risk.
The leader of the Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice (ECSJ), Professor Berhanu Nega, early this week stressed the need for delaying the next elections, mentioning security problems as the reason. However, the reason can be more that security, as evidenced by the growing political alignment between the ECSJ and PM Abiy Ahmed’s camp.
On the other hand, the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) party led by former political prisoner Merera Gudina, and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) led by Daud Ibssa, and other regional parties, which are formed by ethnic Oromos and operating only in Oromia region of Ethiopia, want the elections held as planned and on schedule. “If the government is going to postpone the general election, it will anger the public,” Merera Gudina was quoted as saying. It must be recalled that the OFC and the OLF merged last year in September 2018.
These opposing Oromo parties are believed to have established better social base and acceptance inside Oromia than the region’s governing party – the Oromo Democratic Party (ODP), which is one of the four parties forming the ruling party, EPRDF. Western Ethiopia, a stronghold of OFC and OLF, is still under the control of the federal army command post, and people are being detained on suspicion of involvement in violence in the region. The Oromo opposition parties could, therefore, draw more votes than the ODP in the next regional council elections as a collective group, if not outright by one of them.
The Amhara Democratic Party (ADP), one of the four founding member parties of the coalition EPRDF, is also believed to have partially lost public support in the region, especially after the recent deadly events that saw the death of the region’s chief, Dr. Ambachew Mekonnen, and other top officials. To many inside Amhara, the ADP appears to be collaborating with Abiy’s government to arrest members of the National Movement of Amhara (NAMA) by using the recent “failed coup attempt” as a cover.
Significant number of Amhara people also believe the region’s governing party, the ADP, has failed them twice - first during the regime of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and now during Abiy Ahmed’s government. These people claim the ADP is turning deaf ears and blind eyes as tens of thousands of the Amhara people are being uprooted from their homes across the country. They also complain the ADP did not get them enough political and economic clout in the country even though the Amhara people sacrificed their sons and daughters to bring change more than others. Currently, NAMA seems to be winning the heart and minds of the Amhara public, increasing the possibility that other political parties in the region could win the upcoming regional council elections.
People in the South Nations and Nationalities and Peoples State have been left to confusion. The region’s governing party, the Southern Ethiopian People's Democratic Movement (SEPDM), continues to be fragile, overwhelmed by the numerous demands for statehoods. It is unknown whether it will have any collective voice in near-future developments.
The people’s votes in the region are expected to be shared among the newly created ethnic-based political parties. And these new parties are unlikely to be aligned with the governing coalition party, EPRDF, unless each one of them secures what it wants. Although unlikely, a promising party which strives to keep the diverse nations and nationalities in the region intact and together could win the hearts and minds of the people there and, hence, the region’s next council elections.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has been insisting that the upcoming elections be conducted as scheduled and based on the constitution of Ethiopia, which stipulates that a national election should be held once every five years. In the previous elections since it came to power in 1991, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front won by huge margins, the last one by a hundred percent, putting to shame many authoritarian regimes the world over. The TPLF has been the lead party inside the EPRDF until Abiy Ahmed’s coalition came to power in 2018.
Given the full control the TPLF has over Tigray, it is generally expected that the organization will win the elections in Tigray state. The people there do not have any other political parties to choose from, given the one-party-rule nature inside the state. Parties such as Arena Tigray and the new arrival, Tigray Alliance for National Democracy (TAND), led by Dr. Aregawi Berhe, are unlikely to even campaign there, let alone win majorities. The big question is, will the TPLF work with Abiy’s coalition, OR will it side with another coalition against Abiy Ahmed? It is no surprise that some parties from Oromia region and elsewhere have been eying Mekelle city of late.
Months ago, Debretsion Gebremichael, the chairman of the TPLF, and the chief of Tigray regional state warned that postponement of the upcoming elections could have “grave consequences.” “Not holding the election on time... is unconstitutional,” he told a television station. “It means the Ethiopia government after 2020 is illegitimate.”
On the question of ownership over the capital, Addis Ababa, the ODP has boldly and repeatedly raised several claims over the city since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power. This has been worrying the residents of Addis Ababa and other Ethiopians. Significant number of the people in the capital could, therefore, vote for the Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice party led by Professor Berhanu Nega, with whom Prime Minister Abiy himself is anticipated to join hands sometime in the future, and hence the unease with some inside Oromo circles.
Most political parties are believed to be ill-prepared for the elections and want the general elections postponed. Less than 10 of the over 130 registered political parties have met the 10,000 founding-member requirement to be eligible for the upcoming national elections.
There is also a question of logistics. A national census has already been postponed twice, potentially undermining logistics for the polls, including the drawing up of constituencies. Many people question the advisability of holding elections without conducting the census.
The right of many people to move from one place to another is currently highly compromised. Ethnic-based clashes continue to appear here and there, aggravating forced displacements and pushing the nation to greater tensions.
According to a recently released report by the Internally Displaced Monitoring Center (IDMC), Ethiopia topped the list of internally displaced countries in the world in 2018. At one point, nearly three million Ethiopians have been internally displaced due to, what many believe, flawed ethnic federalism instituted by the EPRDF nearly three decades ago.
Most of the people displaced are from the four largest regions of the country, namely Oromia, Amhara, Somali, and Southern Ethiopia regions.
Critics say postponing the national elections could cause adverse social reactions, further fueling regional conflicts, and damaging Abiy Ahmed’s democratic credentials. However, at noted above, the elections held on time could mean free for all elections in which the current leaders could very well lose their power one way or another. Hence, if it comes to a choice between free for all elections and losing democratic credentials, the choice could be the latter, possibly pointing to many more darker days still ahead for the nation.