On May 24, 2015 Ethiopians went to the polling stations all over the country to cast their votes in the fifth general election since the adoption in 1995 of the country’s constitution. The general election was conducted to elect representatives for both the House of People’s Representatives and Regional State Councils.
Even from the onset, a landslide victory for the incumbent Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) was a certainty. What was left to answer was how big the incumbent would win.
An early announcement of the preliminary results by the country’s electoral board, NEBE, gathered from the constituencies that submitted preliminary results answered that question when it declared the ruling EPRDF as winning big, about 81% as it stands now. By the look of things, Ethiopia is poised for yet another breathtaking win for the incumbent.
*The final result of the election announced yesterday Jun 22 by the NEBE gave the ruling EPRDF and its regional allies a historic 100% win.
Neither the beginning, nor the end
By in large, as a recent series of article published on Addis Standard online and written by one of Ethiopia’s finest academicians stated: “for EPRDF election is a mode of securing a technical legitimacy…it is a mode of entrenching its power by eliminating its opponents through the technology of election.” Or in other words “It is a war by other means.” But the preliminary results that were declared on Wednesday May 27th [and the final results released yesterday] betray even an explanation of that sort. As ballot papers found their way to various forms of media, mainly social media, the results shown on the papers left curious spectators of Ethiopian election, both foes and allies alike, literary speechless.
Surely, there is more to a country, both internally and externally, than holding periodic elections. The series of reflection that ran on Addis Standard online titled “Elections in Ethiopia: beyond winning (and losing)” gave a detailed analysis of what is (internally) more to a country than sending its citizens to polls every now and then.
But how about externally? Beyond the conspicuous collective gasp on the outcome of the result of this election, how are Ethiopia’s development partners planning to handle their relationship with the government in Ethiopia? The answer is not an easy one. On one hand there is this established cliché that is held dear by major development partners including the US and the EU that Ethiopia is an ally too important to lose: it’s their partner on the endless war against terrorism in the horn of Africa and the only island of stability in a neighborhood besieged by civil war, terrorism, famine and lawlessness. But on the other hand the aid money that is pouring into Ethiopia, which made it one of the largest aid recipients in Africa, is coming from taxpayers’ pocket; they are keen to know and have the means to hold their respective governments accountable that the money slashed from their pocket is not spent in a country where such mind-boggling election wins for incumbents are produced, not once, but twice. Leaving aside the virtue of morality, for politics and politicians have none, that prospect alone leaves allies caught between a rock and a hard place.
In the backdrop of this, the EU and the US governments have released cautious statements that neither endorsed the preliminary results, nor explicitly mentioned the election as “free and fair”; it was neither expected of them, nor is it diplomatically wise anyway. The intentions behind these statements were, unmistakably, to say publicly that “we remain committed to working with the Ethiopian Government” (US) and “look forward to continuing and deepening [the] partnership” (EU). Predictably the government in Ethiopia has automatically choreographed the statements and used them to convince itself, Ethiopians and the rest of the world that everything related to the election was well. For a party that is struggling with legitimacy deficit, these were more than statements.
Half the assignment
So far, everyone has done the assignment half way. But the hardest part is yet to come. For the government in Ethiopia, the hardest part was not staging the election. As far as that is concerned everyone, including the African Union Election Observation Mission (AUEOM), regrettably the only international body to observe the election, have confirmed that it was “peaceful and orderly”, the two words that will become another certified clichés as they will replace the standard words of “free” and “fair”. Beyond that however, the hardest part should be how to manage to live and govern a country of 90 million plus people with the outcome of that election.
And for Ethiopia’s development partners the job of verifying (even in their absence from observing) the “peacefulness” and “orderliness” of the election is done. The hardest part is yet to come and it should begin with the way the customary diplomatic cordiality of congratulating the incumbent, when it takes up its job, is conducted.
Guarantying the technical legitimacy that the ruling party in Ethiopia so desperately wanted and the continuity of the development partnership (be it in the war against terrorism or food for work for the country’s poor) is one thing; congratulating it for an election that they themselves fell short of declaring “free” and “fair” is a grand deception to their own taxpayers whose money they have to take to cooperate with the same government. And for many Ethiopians who have clearly been betrayed by the outcome so far of the result, congratulating the same government that they feel has betrayed them is nothing short of an outright insult.
* This editorial was first published in the first week of June on the Addis Standard print edition.