Ethiopia: When and How to End a History of Deceptive and Tragic Elections? (T. Goshu)
Although election is not a new word or concept as it has been practiced and continues to be practiced in human society in one way or another, it becomes very big and complex when it comes to the arena of politics. My intention of raising this issue is just to reflect my view on the question of when and how we should say” NO” to a vicious political circle in which we have been trapped and incredibly suffered from. In other words, believing that we are approaching the same if not the worst political drama in the name of elections, I sincerely argue that there is a pressing need to engage ourselves in serious and constructive discussions. I strongly believe that we desperately need to move forward with a much more critical and resolute manner if the dirty political games being played by TPLF/EPRDF under the cover up of “revolutionary democratic elections” should come to an end.
I do not think any genuinely concerned individual, political party ,social and political movement, civic association and interest group disagrees with the fact that the continuation of very disturbing and extremely deceptive elections games in our political history are becoming much more nightmarish and tragic in this 21st century. We are away from a couple of months only to see the same if not the worst political game of local elections .And the so-called Election Board is getting ready to carry out its dirty job assigned by the tyrannical inner circle of the ruling party. It is because of this kind of not simply ugly but very dangerous political trend we are facing that I sincerely believe it is absolutely imperative to engage ourselves in the process of the struggle for the realization of genuine democratic system in one way or another. I am well aware that dealing with our political history which is of course characterized by highly repressive and deadly practices has been and still is enormously challenging.
Yes, it goes without saying that the people of Ethiopia who truly claim to be the people of a long and great history (with all its negative aspects) have never experienced election in a real sense of the term. Elections during the era of Emperor Halieselassie were just parts of our deceptive political history. And this was not of course surprising as far as the political system was not only feudalistic but under an absolute monarchy. The ugliness of this kind of political game resulted in the tragic end of the Emperor and his palace politics in the first half the 1970s.
Sadly enough, the terrible failure that caused the miserable end of the era of the Emperor was replaced by one of the worst chapters of our political history. The very deceptive elections practiced under an absolute monarchy in the 1950s and after had to give way to a very devastating political chapter in the of name socialist revolution. And the dirty election game for political power continued with all its incredibly serious consequences under a brutal military junta until the first half the beginning of 1990s.
Elections during the military junta were not only deceptive but also horribly tragic. The whole election system (the process, the voting activities and the actual result) was totally a fake political game. And sadly enough, the consequences were extremely devastating. They were tragic because those “elected comrades” became parts of a machine that stayed in power for 17 years by killing a generation. People were forced in one way or another to elect one among so many candidates from the same evil-driven political wing of the military junta, “Ethiopian Workers Party- Esepa”. I am not saying here that those opposing forces to the military junta were or are blameless. But there is no doubt that those who were acting as top members of the ruling party and higher authorities of the government were or are much more responsible and accountable for destroying those who demanded for the establishment of a civil government with a sense of public legitimacy through fair and free election .
The very unfortunate part of our political history of conducting fake and tragic elections becomes extremely worrisome when we think of our inability to make it the thing of the past. I sometimes feel extremely difficult to comprehend for how long we should live with the political history that goes through crises after crises and tragedy after tragedy .Needless to say, history has continued repeating itself in a much more miserable manner. Those who have come to the political power during different period of our history including the current ruling elite have never shown any sense of governing with a real sense of legitimacy. The opposition forces have never been effective in making a genuine cooperation and challenge the tyrannical regime of TPLF/EPRDF. Yes, if we are honest with ourselves, we as individuals or as a people have to admit that we couldn’t go beyond emotional and sporadic way of doing things. We still do not seem ready to learn from bitterly repeated lessons and do something better with a well-defined and well-determined unity of purpose.
It is so outrageous and disturbing to hear a very idiotic argument from the current ruling party that the mistakes it has made and it continues to make are less evil than the mistakes made by all the previous regimes. There is no reason not to see and not to believe that this kind of extremely dangerous political state of mind and practice is going to be huge and chronic damage not only to this generations but the generation to come unless it is reversed sooner, not later. It is very unfortunate and extremely puzzling how we are still not serious enough to learn from the tragic failures we have come across and do something about it. There is no need to go far or deep in search of evidences about the continuation of disingenuous and deadly election games generation after generation. Leaving aside the first two extremely deceptive elections (1995 and 2000), the 2005 national election was and is a very loud and clear evidence how the political game in our country have become deeply and widely tragic because of the determination of the ruling party to perpetuate its political power not only by the use of intimidation, harassment, persecution, stealing t ballot boxes but also the killing machine.
The people of Ethiopia had cautiously a relative sense of hope for the better when the military junta was overthrown by the current ruling party, EPRDF in the beginning of the 1990s. Despite the existence of a lot of uncertainties, challenges and even very risky political environment, many political parties and private publications came into existence. As there were no sounding chance for those newly born political groupings and private media out lets to express the very strong aspiration of the people, it was not easy for them to become a viable and credible challenging forces to the former rebellion group (TPLF/EPRDF) that came to power with the use of bloody armed struggle and controlled all the assets and resources of the country and used them for orchestrating its dirty political game.
The ruling party, especially TPLF did not take much time when it made itself economically powerful by declaring all the public assets and resources it robbed and accumulated throughout its rebellious years as “endowments. “ It worked hard to formulate policies and strategies on its political front; and one of its highly disingenuous tactics was divide and rule in the name of the rights of nations and nationalities. To this end, it reorganized its allies and surrogates strictly based on ethnic-line. And this had to be institutionalized and painted with one of the most important democratic rights ,the right to elect and to be elected .That was how the so-called Election Board was created and became instrumental to carry out the mission given by its creator ( the ruling party) – deceptive and tragic election games.
The late Ato Meles Zenawi who as a matter of fact had been acting as the head of all the three branches of government (the executive, the legislative and the judiciary), his inner cronies, millions of parasitic cadres, and all the propaganda machines “congratulated” the Ethiopian people that “a historic election institution – Ethiopian Election Board” was established thanks to the “political magnanimity “of the ruling party. This was and is a serious insult to the innocent people of Ethiopia who knew and knows very well that there has never been any separation of power between the three branches of government and the ruling political party let alone between the so-called Election Board and its creator and master mind, TPLF /EPRDF. And this has been proved to be undeniable fact when the rubber stamp Election Board worked hard as one of the political arms of the ruling party in conducting very deceptive and tragic “elections.” Its worst political game became extremely loud and clear when the “Board” applied its maximum effort throughout the 2005 general election, and when it subsequently issued an approval certificate declaring that the election result which was characterized not only by the unprecedented level of intimidation, suppression and stealing but also by the blood shed of innocent citizens who demanded for the respect of their legitimate votes was won by (TPLF/EPRDF.) Adding salt to the wound, another house of political cadres (the prosecutors and judges) were instructed by the inner circle of the illegitimate ruling party to fabricate serious criminal charges against high ranking members of the then main opposition coalition (Kinjit) and to throw them into jail and sentence them long time imprisonment including life time.
All the private media which tried to show genuine concern about the wrong direction in which the country was heading were hit hard by extremely reckless politically motivated intimidation and harassment. Editors and staffers were not only intimidated and suppressed but thrown into jail and forced to go through untold dehumanization.
The terribly shameful ruling circle conducted another dirty political game in the name of “democratic election” in the 2010 parliamentary and regional councils election; and the result was declared by the same Election Board ( the election approval body of the ruling circle) calling it a historic land-slide victory (99.6 percent) by the TPLF/EPRDF . The ruling circle which was rejected by the people in the 2005 national election but shamefully stole the ballot boxes and took ruthless action including mass arrest, torture and extra judiciary killings once again insulted the intelligence of the people. The innocent people of Ethiopia were instructed to join the ruling party that has incredibly dehumanized them in celebrating “an extraordinary democratic election in the history of the country.”
Not only an outrageous but also very deadly political games continued when the EPRDF government legislated and enforced laws that are used to suppress if not to destroy all opposition forces and other stake holders of the struggle for the realization of genuine political freedom and civil rights through the power of ballot boxes – fair and free elections.
The rubber stamp parliament (the legislative arm of the ruling party, not the people) has approved laws such as “anti-terrorism”; “NGOs (Charities and Societies Proclamation)” and all other ridiculous and reckless rules and regulations that are being used as preemptive political weapons against not only all the political opponents of the ruling circle but also civic organizations which were and are among the players of very important role in the process of building a democratic society. What the government has recently done to the former Ethiopian Human Rights Council (nowadays forced to change its name to Human Rights Council) and the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association is a typical example how the fundamental right of citizens faces a serious blow. It is an open secret that members of the opposition political parties and journalist are paying huge sacrifices as the result of the politically motivated and fabricated charges. Needless to say, these and many other horrible political games are aimed at the aspiration of the people for having a political system characterized by the existence of free and fair elections.
The very hypocritical and cynical ruling party has created another big under cover institution called The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. This” Human Rights Commission “which was first led by Dr. Kassa G/Hiwot who was the Ambassador of TPLF /EPRDF to Russia and of course one of the main supporters/sympathizers of TPLF. And currently it is being led by one of the most opportunistic and dysfunctional professionals such , Ambassador Teruneh Zena who is OK with doing any job irrespective of for what kind of political system he does serve. It is very unfortunate to see the tax payers’ money (internal and external) being consumed by a Commission that is used as a mere cover up for the ruling party which perpetuates its survival by playing very deceptive and tragic elections. To my knowledge, this institution has never done something meaningful when innocent citizens experienced an incredible degree of dehumanization for the last several years for the simple reason demanding to exercise their fundamental rights through fair and free elections.
The ruling party has dismantled various civic and professional associations such as Teachers’ Association, Association of Journalists, Youth Associations, Students Associations, Women’s Associations, Labor Unions and the like; and reorganized them in such a way that they become long and strong arms of its evil-driven political agenda and practices. There is no doubt that the top members of the leadership of these associations are members or supporters or sympathizers of the ruling party in one way or another. And it goes without saying that these leaders are instrumental in the orchestration and operation of deceptive and tragic elections.
I am just trying to express my perspective about the question of how the challenges we are facing are so wide and deep. I do not think there is a need to conduct a kind of formal survey let alone scientific research in search of evidence about the deadly orchestrated political drama being played by the tyrannical ruling party and its parasitic surrogates.
If the people do not stop these very notoriously deceptive and tragic election games today not tomorrow, there is no doubt that the ruling party will continue playing its deadly political games one term of election after another. I strongly believe that the people of Ethiopia cannot afford to live in these types of miserable situations anymore. I strongly argue that the people have to reject the continuation of their sufferings as a consequence of the dirty and dangerous political games being played in the name of elections. And this has to be stopped today, not tomorrow. It is neither an exaggeration nor mere hatred to say that the people of Ethiopia are at a turning point of history as far as the question of their fundamental political freedom and human dignity is concerned. But, I am not in any illusion that things are or will be easy to the people of Ethiopia who had no any opportunity to exercise their basic political freedom and fundamental human rights throughout their political history.
However, it is equally important to admit that the opposition political groupings as organizing forces, individuals as responsible citizens; and the people as the ultimate sovereign power have never been able to make a meaningful and effective political bondage and make a meaningful difference. Well, I understand that all the regimes (with their own degree of differences), especially for the last forty years (1970s to the present) have caused enormous damages to the very essence of the political and moral courage of the people. One way or the other, the question is :hadn’t the people have more than enough to learn from the untold sufferings not only under the ruthless regimes they have gone through and continue to go through, but also as the result of an unacceptable level of fear and moral degradation? Have we as a people seriously and persistently tried to challenge the continuation of a very deceptive and deadly political games being played by the current ruling circle (TPLF/EPRDF) in a proactive and well-coordinated fashion? Folks, it is absolutely imperative to face these and many other critical questions if we want to shorten the dehumanization we are experiencing in every aspect of our lives.
I am trying to closely follow the recently ugly political drama being directed by the ruling inner circle and being performed by one of the “historic democratic institutions – Election Board.” The very first episode of the drama was held in Adam in the presence of both the ruling party’s surrogates and a considerable number of opposition political parties simply to introduce the time table for the election. Even if the representatives of the opposition parties expressed their concerns about serious issues to be dealt with before jumping to very procedural and technical matters, the rubber stamp Election Board authorities ignored the legitimate concerns of the opposition; and it was reported that the meeting ended without any sense of agreement. Disgracefully enough, the so –called Election Board has proved itself that it continues to be instrumental for the continuation of the dirty political game in the name of election. And this has become very clear when the Board prepared a very cheap propaganda –type of statement saying that the meeting was held successfully and the agenda (the time table) was agreed by all the participants; and sent this shameful statement to the very poor journalists to read it on their TV window. Folks, we have to be extremely worried about the continuation of this kind of idiocy and we need to have serious conversation on the issue of how to deal with it.
I listened to the interviews given by high ranking members of opposition parties specifically Ato Asrat Tassie of Andnet/Medrek ;and Ato Deneke Wondemagegn of the All Ethiopian Unity Organization .I also read the official letter of request prepared by the provisional committee of 35 political parties and submitted to the National Election Board . I do believe that it is neither inappropriate nor far from what is happening on the ground that this Election Body is serving as one of the political arms of the ruling party in conducting highly deceptive and deadly elections. I strongly believe that all the eighteen issues of concern clearly stated in that letter of request are parts and parcels of principles of democratic freedom: Freedom of expression and /or speech, Freedom of press, Freedom of association, Freedom of assembly including peaceful political protest and freedom of organization. It also clearly states the existence of instruments for the implementation of those democratic values : strict observance of the rule of law, the existence of independent judiciary, the existence of independent election body, the existence of independent law enforcement bodies such as the police , the security force that safeguards the security of the country and the people instead of spying on innocent citizens and intimidating /harassing those who criticize the ruling elites and cronies for their ill-guided political agenda and policies. I strongly believe that the position and the steps being taken by those opposition political parties are critically the right things to do if the country and her people should get out of the political culture of “ deceive and win; and if not punish the genuine winner of the public vote and snatch it and declare land-slide victory.”
Unfortunately enough, the inner circle of the ruling party is not still willing and able not to repeat the very terrible mistakes of the last 20 years. The” new” PM. Ato Hailemariam Desalegn unequivocally told the Ethiopian people that he is determined to carry on the legacy of his predecessor with no any slight change. Does he mean that all what was done for the last two decades was great and has to be carried on? Is he saying that intimidating, harassing, jailing and killing innocent people who tried to exercise their political rights through voting ballots is a great legacy to be continued? Is he telling us that conducting elections without taking the fundamental principles and instruments of democratic election requested by the 35 opposition parties is a great legacy to be kept intact during his premiership? Is he telling us that registering certain economic performances with millions and billions of dollars of foreign aid and loan gives the license to go with a gross violation of the fundamental political and human rights of the people, and that has to be maintained as great legacy of his predecessor? Is he saying that the so-called Election Board should continue with its dirty political job assigned by his party/front because that is the great legacy of his “great predecessor?” Is he authoritatively telling us that unless those opposition political parties which are requesting for constructive dialogue put their signature on a mischievously incomplete document of Conduct of Ethics, his party/front will go ahead and repeat the horrible mistakes committed for the last two decades and especially during the 2005 and 2008 elections? I can go on and on with a list of very serious and legitimate questions.
Folks, it is a well –founded fact of life that making mistakes (big or small) is neither totally avoidable nor a curse as such. But repeating them over and over again in a much more miserable fashion is neither justifiable nor excusable because the consequences of this kind of behavior and action will be incalculably serious. I wish I would exaggerate it and would be wrong. But that is what it is! One of the well-known experts on the subject of how to be successful in life at individual and organizational level, Brian Tracy strongly argues about the seriousness of making mistakes repeatedly in his book titled “GOALS: how to get everything you want – faster than you ever thought possible.” He says, “We have seen this repeatedly in national politics where the failure of a single person to admit a mistake or plunder has led to tremendous waste of time and energy for everyone involved and often for the entire nation.” That was what was happening for the last two decades and what is happening still now.
Let me conclude my reflection by saying that unless we come together and act together around the very big and serious issues we share today not tomorrow ,there is no doubt that the ruling party will go ahead with its reckless if not deadly political games in the name of elections. Let’s put aside our tug of wars and blaming each other. Let’s exert our focused and meaningful efforts towards our desperately aspired common objectives, the realization of political freedom and human dignity through fair and free elections. Let’s extend our tangible and effective support to any opposition political party and movements which are trying their best to make a difference, and make them responsible and accountable instead of simply complaining about their weaknesses. Let those political forces get out of the culture of talking in their own small circles. Let they work hard to walk together. It is then and only then the highly deceptive if not tragic political games of election would come to an end.