It could well be said that literally no election had been completed happily to the minimal satisfaction of many contending political actors, and notably to a fair contentment of the Ethiopian people, ever since the assumption of power by the ruling Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in 1991. Nor is it uncommon to hear the major opposition parties blaming the ruling party for imposing upon them unbearable financial, physical, psychological and morale constrains before or during every election.
Often, at the center of dissension are issues that have to do with the questionable impartiality of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) and other state institutions directly or indirectly impacting the process and outcome of general elections. Owing to this, there were even occasions in the past whereby some opposition parties have gone to the extent of boycotting the ensuing election all together.
In somewhat unprecedented manner this time around however instead of the major opposition parties boycotting the election, it rather seems that they are to be systematically pushed away by the incumbent, as it were, ‘eliminating the contestant ahead of the match’.
This assertion bases itself on the recent decision of NEBE that apparently legitimated a few disgruntled individuals at the expense of the larger party-bodies of two relatively stronger opposition parties – Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), and All Ethiopian Unity Party (AEUP)–that effectively disqualified them from taking part in the upcoming election.
Given the all-too-familiar intense psychological and moral justifying propaganda work by pro-government media in the days and weeks ahead, the decision never came as a surprise for many of us who have already been well accustomed to that sort of familiar dirty tricks.
No matter how hard the concerned authorities have toiled to portray the issue as mere intra-party wrangling, all the symptoms and treatment of the episode bear the mark of the rather well-known ‘invisible-hand’ of the classic EPRDF’s treacherous Machiavellian Politics.
After all, the present victim parties were particularly the ones that had uncharacteristically heated up the momentum of rhetoric and actions in the preceding weeks and months by openly declaring their intent to unseat the incumbent in the forthcoming election.
Moreover, by virtue of their character, no doubt that these parties would be read in the political dictionary of the incumbent as the ‘spiritual heir’ of the defunct Coalition party – best known as Kinjit just a decade ago – thus, worthy of deserving the same destiny, only with the added caution this time around of taking the surgical action much ahead of the election.
Now, we may wonder that after having accomplished relatively well at least in the area of physical infrastructural construction activities in the past few years, why should the incumbent implicate itself in such type of treacherous election politics.
In my view, there are many possible reasons for that out of which a few are discussed very briefly as follows.
The confidence and credibility factor
It goes without saying that the single most important asset that a political party could have during elections is that of the level of popularity that it enjoys amongst the larger public. In most advanced countries this is measured by neutral, specialized agencies in the form of opinion polls to gauge the rating of political actors with their citizens.
In cases where such sort of formal measurement is lacking – as is the case here in Ethiopia – indirect measurements like general public attitude to government officials, enthusiasm of public responses to official events, attendance rate to pro-government media, informal conversations, and stories could well serve as important tools for estimating the level of popularity of a ruling party among the mass of citizens.
If viewed in light of these parameters, it will not be difficult to see how much the ruling party in Ethiopia is indeed faring badly.
Apparently, this is not without reason. For instance, anyone remotely familiar with the discourse of the incumbent knows all too well that the rhetoric of democracy, justice, freedom and equality occupies quite a prominent place. Yet, what the track record of almost a quarter of a century of its rule as a government power reveals is that it is indeed in these same areas of rhetoric that we find the incumbent failing so terribly.
I suppose the recent party’s shift to the discourse of the primacy of development over democracy is an indicative of not only becoming untrue to its very promise when assuming power but also an indirect testimony to its failure in delivering the promise – reason enough to seriously jeopardize its credibility.
Meanwhile, the incumbent’s long standing policy and practice of attaching far more credit to party loyalty over capability of individuals for governmental positions might have as well its own detrimental impact. This is often evidenced in extremely poor quality, if not non-existent, delivery of essential public services by incompetent, inexperienced and unmotivated personnel. This, coupled with rapidly growing corruption in nearly all sectors, will definitely deliver a significant blow to public confidence towards the incumbent.
Furthermore, as was once revealed by the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, the contention between his party and some other opposition parties is not so much a matter of strategy of government rule as it is in variously envisioned form of the Ethiopian state that leaves the incumbent reluctant enough to abandon its ‘hard-won’ governmental power. We shouldn’t also forget people’s natural urge to seek change in government after having been under a single party rule for almost a quarter of a century that makes the ruling party less confident to contend against newly emerging parties.
The survival factor
Another stumbling block for making election a means of shifting governmental power among political parties seems to emanate from the long-standing tradition of maintaining an iron fist over key governmental institutions and major economic sectors by the ruling party and its affiliates. Obviously, this will make for the ruling party the prospect of leaving power a nightmare scenario.
While for many rank and file members of the ruling party – probably owing to lack of employable skill – political position is not so much for mere ‘leisure’ of accomplishing political mission as it is a major means of earning a livelihood – not so easy to relinquish at all.
Last but not least, the fear of possibly facing justice for some probable past misdeeds may also impel the ruling party officials to maintain the status quo ad infinitum.
Thus, given all these intricate and difficult political circumstances which the country is currently facing, the prospect of undertaking somewhat genuinely free, fair and reasonably consensual election anytime soon looks bleak.
This sordid state of affairs will therefore make it clear that it is high time that we stop fooling ourselves with keeping up the meaningless, ritualistic election every now and then. For this to happen, the incumbent ought to courageously cease operating under the tacit assumption of the ‘winner-takes-it-all’ politics and thereby accord due recognition to silently fermenting legitimate political concerns rather than belittling them as devilish nonsense. And this needs to be accompanied with working earnestly and in good faith–in some sense of urgency–towards undertaking an all-embracing, earnest and constructive political dialogue so as to address the problem for once and all with an eye at the long-term peace and prosperity of the whole nation at large.