Illusion of Transparency: Ethiopia’s Election

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With the defeat of the Marxist military dictatorship of the Derg, Ethiopia entered a new era, full of democratic promises. But after witnessing the context of Ethiopia’s General Elections tells us the apple does not fall too far from the tree. since 1995, speculating the outcomes of the designed delusion is a long approach to democracy. Ethiopia has gone through six elections in the past 26 years although on the surface the general mass led to believe the progressive elections would result in the building of democracy history guaranteed us that there was no sign of effective election that would remotely inhabit the characteristics of active democracy, the persuasion of the populist propaganda of general election had always been the same.

After the fall of the Derg regime in 1991, the EPDRF (Ethiopian people’s revolutionary democratic front) took control. following with a general election on 5 January 1995.

This was the first regular multi-party election where the EPDRF won taking 417 of 547seats in a condition where 4 out of 5 national competitor parties boycotted the election due to the unfairness and members of the opposition party were harassed, beaten, and prohibited from traveling. Following up with the 2000 general election where several parties still boycotted, 17 opposition parties participated. the EPRDF won taking 481 of 524 seats.  In the regional election, either EPRDF or one of its members won except in the afar region.

There were also credible reports investigated by the human rights commission later submitted to NEBE (national election board of Ethiopia) the existence of ball out the stuffing, vote count fraud, voters intimidation or bribery, dismissal from work, withholding of salaries, detentions, abduction, and killings.

Ethiopia’s democratic tradition is not only historically shallow but also largely procedural. Despite of the reality in the 2005 general election, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi promised that this election would be proof that more democracy would come in this multi-ethnic nation, but international elections observers from the European Union (EU) and the U.S-based Carter Center were present to observe the results. This election succeeded in attracting about 90 pc of the registered voters to the polls. A government ban on protests was imposed throughout the election period.

Early results showed the opposition with a big lead, sweeping all of the contested seats in the capital Addis both in the race for parliamentary as well as local government. By the afternoon of 16 May, the opposition claimed it was halfway towards winning a majority in the national parliament with only about a third of the constituencies reporting complete results. Later that day, trailing badly in the preliminary report covering just under 200 seats released by the National Election Board, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) announced that it had won more than 317 seats out of 547 while conceding that opposition parties won all 23 seats in the capital city Addis Abeba. The two major opposition parties, the  Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) and the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces(UEDF) claim on that same day that they had won 185 of the approximately 200 seats for which the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) had released preliminary results. That was a significant improvement over the 12 seats the opposition had in the previous parliament.

By law, the NEBE was required to announce the official results on 8 June. However, the vote tallying process was jeopardized when the opposition claimed that the Addis Ababa vote was rigged and during the evening of 16 May, the Prime Minister declared a state of emergency, outlawed any public gathering, assumed direct command of the security forces, and replaced the capital city police with federal police and special forces drawn from elite army units. The NEBE, simultaneously, ordered the vote tallying process to stop, an order which was not rescinded for nearly a week, yet another action against which the opposition and the independent election monitors strongly objected.

The next official report from the NEBE, released on 27 May, showed that the EPRDF had won 209 seats, and affiliated parties 12 more. The report indicated the opposition parties had won 142 seats. “These results are provisional, and these results could change because we are looking into complaints by some of the parties,” said NEBE spokesman Getahun Amogne.

Observers from the European Union afterward “assessed the closing and counting processes negatively in almost half of the urban polling stations observed, a very high figure for international observers to record, and even worse in rural polling stations observed.” Counting was slow, a remarkably high number of ballots were ruled invalid, and there was a lack of transparency in the results. “Result sheets were only displayed at 29 pc of rural polling stations observed and 36 pc of urban polling stations observed at the completion of counting. In 25 pc of polling stations observed, political party representatives were not provided with a copy of the results

On July 8, the NEBE released the first official results for 307 of the 547 national parliamentary seats. Of the 307 seats, the EPRDF had won 139, while CUD and UEDF won 93 and 42, respectively. Smaller parties and independent candidates won the remaining 33 seats. However,  Berhanu Nega, vice-chairman of the CUD, had criticized the process, claiming that “The investigation process was a complete failure. Our representatives and witnesses have been harassed, threatened, barred, and killed upon their return from the hearings.” And once again the ruling party EPRDF won.

Not a lot has changed after the most anticipated 2005 general election passed, people lost their interest in participating in any sort of election, opposition parties understood well the outcomes of the process. in 2010 Ethiopia’s general election opposition leader Merera Gudina stated that, because the ruling EPRDF controls all local administrations, the election would struggle to prevent Ethiopia from becoming a one-party state.

According to early results released by the election board, the EPRDF was on course for victory, leading the vote count in all of Ethiopia’s regions. The chairman of the election board, Merga Bekana, announced that the EPRDF had “definitely” won the election following its lead in 9 of 11 regions that had reported results, including the former opposition-dominated region of Oromia. Human Rights Watch claimed the results were affected by government intimidation of voters over a period of months.

Opposition groups rejected the election results, with both the Medrek coalition and the separate AEUP issuing calls for a re-run of the election. Both opposition groups said that their observers were blocked from entering polling stations during the election and in some cases, the individuals were beaten.  However, Ethiopian government officials defended the results as accurately reflecting the mood of the people.

The EPRDF was finally dissolved in December 2019. Most of its member parties were merged into the prosperity party, which inherited the EPRDF’s role as the governing party. The last leader of the EPRDF prime minister Abiy Ahmed became the new party’s first leader.  Mr. Abiy rose to power in April 2018 on the back of protests against the coalition government dominated by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and embarked on shaking up Ethiopia. Although the promises of unity and prosperity preached as the main theme of the party, several outbreaks and violence struck the Northern part of the country in addition to pressures coming from the outside world.

While amidst all this unrest, the 6th Ethiopia election was held on June 21, 2021, after a continuous delay due to unstable conditions in the country and the covid-19 pandemic.

Some of the country’s biggest political parties have boycotted this election citing intimidation from the state. And some of Mr. Abiy’s biggest opponents on the national stage are in detention accused of trying to destabilize the country.

The head of the electoral commission, Birtukan Mideksa, said that while things had gone mostly smoothly she was worried about the intimidation of opposition party agents in some places – particularly in the Amhara region and the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region.

“Some complain they have been beaten or denied access to voting stations,” she added “If this issue is not resolved immediately the outcome of the election might be compromised.”

More than 40 parties have fielded candidates but most of them are regional parties. Opposition parties have complained that a government crackdown against their officials disrupted their plans to prepare for the polls. In some pivotal regions, such as Oromia, opposition parties are boycotting the election, alleging government intimidation.

According to Abdu Ali Higera, an expert in law mentioned: “although people should participate in voting in order to exercise the idea of democracy, rather than being a turning point for Ethiopia democracy, it could be a stepping stone for the countries journey towards that.”

“There are still some setbacks related to NEBE that need law enforcement on the procedure.” He added