Why Ethiopia’s Elections Fall Short of International Standards?
By Endris Hundissa, a Ph.D. student in Diplomacy and International Affairs, and Human Rights Activist, May 15, 2021
- An election is the question of choice between two or more alternatives, be it a party or a person. The first limitation with Ethiopia’s Upcoming ‘Elections’ is falling short of this simple definition because Prime Minister Abiy’s Prosperity Party (PP) is the only party on the ballot box in the Oromia Regional State and many other places while the whole region of Tigray is excluded from the electoral map.
- The political space is narrower than ever, and the major opposition parties’ leaders are detained because of political reasons. In Oromia, the country’s largest region making up about 40% of the country’s population, most of the senior leaders of the two biggest opposition parties, OLF and OFC are in detention. Recently, the government security forces raided the residential home of Dawoud Ibsa, OLF chairperson, and arrest party officials found with him. Most of the offices of OLF and OFC are closed, the government detained many of their members, and the remaining are under the watchful eyes of the government security personnel and very often harassed and intimidated. It’s a public secret that most of the Oromo people are supporting the OLF and OFC. A simple example, when OLF leadership came home from exile in 2018, millions of its supporters marched in Addis Ababa’s Revolution Square to welcome the party. When the leaders of OFC traveled to the East and Southern part of Oromia, millions of supporters received them in many places, including small towns. In fact, that was what panicked the ruling party and moved it to attack their members and supporters across the country. An important question here is: how can ‘free, fair and credible’ elections be held by pushing out of the polls political parties that have millions of supporters?
- There have been politically motivated killings, detentions, and torturers in the country for the last three years. Having different political views from the ruling Prosperity party is almost criminalized in many parts of the country. The ruling party has systematically pushed the multinational federation parties and their supporters out of the political space. However, the right-wing unitary forces are being promoted to control and enjoy political leverage in Ethiopia. The war in Western and Southern Oromia, Benishangul, and Tigray regions is intended to weaken and destroy the pro-multi-national/Ethnic federation forces, which have a huge following across the country. Therefore, these ‘elections’ aims to scrap the existing constitutional after the elections under which the election itself is mandated. The government and the pro-unitary parties are denying the majority of Ethiopians the right to elect from different political trends and/or denying them to get real choices.
- Lack of Independent Institutions: one requirement of ‘fair and free’ elections is the existence of an independent Election Board, Human Rights Commission, Judicial system, and Media. It has been proved that those institutions are under the influence and/or total control of the ruling party in Ethiopia.
- Lack of Peace and Security. There has been a conventional war between TPLF and the Federal government for the last six months in Tigray, which have already consumed thousands of lives; it displaced millions internally while more than sixty thousand fled to Sudan. In this regard, the international media outlets have been reporting atrocities amounting to genocide and crime against humanity. Therefore, there is no election in the Tigray Region.
Intercommunal conflicts and government security forces violations of human rights are everywhere in the country. For example, the atrocity committed by the Amhara special forces in the Oromo special zone in Amhara Region has happened very recently. There was also blood shade between Afar and the Somali regional states. Furthermore, many parts of the country are under the command post military administration and not suitable for the elections. Therefore, these and many other sensitive issues show the necessity of all-inclusive national dialogues before having the elections.
- Lack of Transparency. Each step of the election process should be easily understood and scrutinized by all stakeholders (voters, political parties, and observers). Did the political parties have a saying in the nomination of election administrators and observers by the election board? No. For example, Prof. Merera Gudina of OFC complained about the unknown personality and backgrounds of the election administrators and observers handpicked by the election board and the ruling party. Do the candidates know and scrutinized the election administrators and observers in their constituency? No. The EU’s decision to decline to send observers can magnify transparency issues regarding the election process.
- The choices that each voter makes should remain private both during and after the election. However, the ruling party is harassing the people to register and vote for the ruling party only. Some media reported that the ruling party is providing sugar and oil in exchange for votes. In many parts of Oromia, local administrators tell the people that this year’s election is unique because the ruling party is the only part competing, which clearly demonstrates the reality of election without choice.
- Only eligible voters should be allowed to vote, and those votes must be protected from any alteration or exclusion. However, elementary school children are getting election cards, and bags of election cards are found in several schools where one person takes many cards.
- The election process must be affordable to the government and its citizens to maintain sovereignty. The country is in a significant economic crisis because of both natural and artificial factors. Naturally, long-lasting drought, locusts, and Coved-19 hit the country’s economy severely. Political instability, lack of security, the war in Tigray and parts of Oromia, deteriorating international support for the elections make the elections unaffordable. Besides the lack of economic feasibility, there are concerns that the elections would compromise the national sovereignty as well as could lead to economic crisis.
- All eligible voters, regardless of location, group membership, or disability, should have reasonable and equal opportunity to cast their ballot. However, because of procedural, pandemic, security issues, the turnout will be lower than expected. There is no election in Tigray Region. Military command posts in parts of the Amhara, Oromia, and Benishangul regions would hinder the turnout.
In a nutshell, the upcoming elections cannot deliver the country’s three greatest needs: durable peace, the birth of democratic Ethiopia and meaningful economic development.