“Easy to remove the garbage that has covered lumps of truth”
I am writing this letter in response to the “preliminary statement on the elections’ appeals process, the rerun of elections and the Somali region elections” of the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU-EOM). As this is the first time in my entire political life that anything is being published in my name, the letter is likely to come as a surprise to you and your readers. Allow me, therefore, to briefly explain why there appears to be a break in tradition.
What has it got to do with the investigations?
The conclusions of the EU-EOM as relates to the complaints investigations, as it were, stand on two legs. The first leg has to do with the context of the investigations while the second leg is related to the investigations themselves. Let us deal with them one at a time.
Guilty until proven innocent
The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU-EOM) has three main arguments to prove that the complaints investigation mechanism’s activities were flawed and did not meet international standards. It first alleges that opposition parties had been hindered by intimidation and arrests of their witnesses. It also argues that there were inconsistencies in the application of the rules of procedures. Finally, it further argues that the impartiality of the evaluation of complaints was questionable. Let us deal with each point by starting with the last one.
It is worth reminding your readers what the EU-EOM had said about the quality of cases presented by the parties to the Complaints Investigation Panels (CIPs). It had said that the opposition parties witnesses were “inconsistent” their evidence poor and their arguments weak. It had said that, on the contrary, the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF’s) evidence was substantiated and its arguments well drafted. One can guess as to what an impartial evaluation of the complaints would decide on the basis of the above-mentioned facts.
On page three of the statement the EU-EOM says as follows.
“de facto there was no level playing field: the ruling party was generally represented on the panels by important members of the local society, including state officials, such as judges. This increased confusion between the roles of the state and EPRDF and (sic) exacerbated the atmosphere of intimidation, including of members of the election administration, often called as witnesses by all parties....”
Let me start by disposing of the obvious misrepresentation first. Judges could not and did not represent any of the parties in the CIPs. Not one judge sat on the CIPs anywhere in the country representing the ruling or any other party. Let me also add that an investigation into alleged electoral malpractice could not but hear testimony from the election administrators. Naturally therefore the parties called on them to testify.
The procedure of the CIPs, which was agreed upon by all parties, was designed to give them a level playing field. Every party that had a case to be presented before any CIP was given one seat in the CIP, and every one had the right to appoint whoever they wished to represent them in the CIPs. Naturally, members of institutions that are not allowed to engage in partisan politics (Judges, members of the police and armed forces) could not represent parties, but other than that it was up to every party to name its representative. Each party was also allowed to name people who would plead its case before the panels. It was naturally assumed that all parties would assign to the task the best people they have.
The EPRDF assigned the best people it has to represent it on the panels. This usually happened to be officials elected to local government posts or political appointees. It also assigned the best people it could get to defend its case. Those in government positions took a leave of absence from their position and devoted their time to defending the party that they support and/or are members of. The opposition parties had exactly the same right. But in the opinion of the EU-EOM, the quality of people assigned by them was not on a par with that of the EPRDF. The EU-EOM is of course entitled to its opinion about the capability of the representatives of the various parties, but what concerns us here is its impact on the playing field.
Leveling the playing field means that every party is given the same chance. That, I believe, is the international standard. Leveling the playing field does not mean leveling the capability of the representatives of each party. That is not the international standard. That is EU-EOM standard. So long as the EPRDF was represented by more capable people or people who command more respect locally than those of the opposition, the EU-EOM concludes there can be no level paying field.
The EU-EOM is also concerned about confusion of the roles of the state and parties. In every democratic country members of a ruling party are elected into state positions or are appointed into state offices that are held by political appointees. Such people are allowed to retain their state and party positions in every democratic country that I know of. They carry out their state functions in their capacity as state officials and perform party duties in their capacity as party officials.
Those who were involved with the CIPs were the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) and the parties. The government was not a party to the process. EPRDF party officials took a leave of absence from their state positions and represented their party in the CIPs. That I believe fulfils international standards and implies no confusion of the state and party.
The EU-EOM seems to argue that the very presence of state officials in the CIPs would intimidate people. It does not present any evidence as to whether their very presence did have such an impact. In any case, if that were to be the assumption, then the ruling party could not be represented by the best people it has because, as ruling parties normally do, it fields its best people as candidates to elective state positions and appoints its best people in state positions held by political appointees. The EU-EOM appears to think that such an approach would level the playing field. No, it does not. What it does is let the opposition parties be represented by the best they have while denying the EPRDF the same right. The argument of EU-EOM that there was no level field says a lot more about its sympathies and antipathies than about the playing field which was level and which was agreed upon by all the concerned parties.
On the same theme, the EU-EOM has the following to say:
“The opposition may appeal NEBE decisions on the CIPs conclusions to the courts. Nevertheless, the chairman of the National Electoral Board, Ato Kemal Bedri, is the same person who chairs the Supreme Court. Despite his efforts to uphold an independent and legally grounded arbitration within the NEBE that coincidence of offices does not encourage public trust in an independent review by the NEBE or, actually, the courts. The opposition parties and other observers, who charged since the electoral campaign that NEBE was not independent, perceived it worsening at the appeals stage, also pointing out that there is no clear separation of power between the judiciary and the executive.”
I believe this is one of the most extraordinary paragraphs in the statement and requires careful scrutiny.
The author of the statement suggest that the fact that the president of the Supreme Court is at the same time the chairman of the independent election board jeopardizes the independence and objectivity of both. The author must know that in some of the oldest democracies, it is ministers and senior government officials who oversee elections. As these government officials are, in most cases, also senior members of ruling parties, there is in such an arrangement an even more obvious “coincidence of offices”. No one has, to the best of my knowledge, questioned the impartiality of the electoral institutions in these countries on the basis of the mere fact of “coincidence of offices”. The EU-EOM talks of international standards, and if the practice of established democracies is one element of that standard, then the NEBE is by far less susceptible to the alleged harm that may be caused by the “coincidence of offices” than those of some of the most democratic states on earth. In our case, parties - ruling or opposition - have no place on the Board of NEBE. In our case, it is the president of the highest court of the land, a president who by law is forbidden from belonging to any party, who chairs the board. How can the fact that a person who is by law obliged to be non-partisan is chairman of the board ipso facto jeopardize its impartiality? How is our board’s set-up inferior to any of those in the established democracies in terms of avoiding “coincidence of offices”?
The author must know that judges in all democracies do, from time to time, face issues of conflict of interest, when for example they are asked to adjudicate cases involving family members or cases that they have already come across in a different capacity. The normal practice in such cases is that the concerned judge excuses himself/herself from adjudicating the case in question and lets other judges deal with it. That is the normal practice in Ethiopia, too, for after all we do try to live up to international standards. How is it possible that such potential conflict of interest automatically puts the independence of both the judiciary and the NEBE into question when Ethiopia practices the same remedy that is practiced in all democracies to address problems of conflict of interest in a satisfactory manner.
While the EU-EOM talks of international standards it apparently has no interest in applying them to its own work. It appears to prefer the standard of guilty until proven innocent when it comes to the EPRDF, the NEBE, the CIPs etc. The NEBE and the judiciary are found guilty of partiality because of the “coincidence of offices” which in some form or another is to be found in every democratic country and for which internationally accepted remedies are available, remedies that have and will continue to be used in Ethiopia.
The EU-EOM reinforces this argument in a most unusual fashion, and in order to highlight this point, I feel, I must quote again one single sentence from my previous quotation. The author of the statement says “the opposition parties and other observers, who charged since the electoral campaign that NEBE was not independent, perceived it worsening at the appeals stage, also pointing out that there is no clear separation of power between the judiciary and the executive.” You must remember that this is a quote from a statement of an election observer team whose task is to observe the electoral process and report what they observed. What this particular group of observers is telling us in the sentence just cited is not what they themselves observed and verified. No! What they are telling us is what the opposition parties and some other unnamed observers perceived. What these unnamed observers perceived is that the NEBE is partial and that its partiality has been getting worse, and that the judiciary is not independent. The EU-EOM appears somehow to have been made aware of this perception of the opposition parties and unnamed observers. To the author of the statement, God save her soul, that is enough to condemn the NEBE to a lack of impartiality and the judiciary to a lack of independence. After all, the standard they prefer to use is that if you are accused by the opposition of doing something wrong, or perceived to have done something wrong, that is all there is to it, the case is closed. You are guilty as accused, or perceived.
In the end, even the EU-EOM understands that it has to come up with something concrete to show that the CIPs and the NEBE have acted in a manner that favours the EPRDF and it comes up with the following case on page six:
“One such case occurred in Shashemene 1 constituency, where the complainant, (UEDF) presented certificates of results for 64 Polling Stations (out of 67 in the constituency) duly completed, signed and stamped by the relevant election officers, declaring the UEDF candidate as winner. This evidence was rejected by the CIP on the allegation that the documents were forged. The complaint was dismissed so the EPRDF candidate retains the seat. This decision was based on the testimony of a local police officer, who certified in front of the panel that some copies of the mentioned form had been stolen prior to the election, thus the documents presented to the panel could be fake.”
The same story is told on page five as follows.
“....There were cases where opposition (sic) had strong evidence, namely result certificates of May 15th, and that was dismissed against unconvincing elements, namely statements from NEBE or Police Officials. This was, for example, the case in Shashemene 1”
I really am at a loss where to start with this one. It is so symptomatic of the EU-EOM’s shoddy reporting.
You will notice that results certificates are very convincing pieces of evidence to the EU-EOM, and this despite their allegation that there was serious fraud in vote counting and aggregation. What they do not seem to understand is that such certificates are issued by NEBE officials whose statements are of course unconvincing. As a result, you have these strange phenomena where a certificate issued by a person is very convincing but testimony by that very person is very unconvincing. In the eyes of the EU-EOM, it goes without saying that testimony of a local police officer cannot but be unconvincing. That apparently is the international standard for the EU-EOM.
On a more serious note, what the CIP in Shashemene had was not only the testimony of some lowly police officer but also the said certificate. You see the certificate presented to the CIP by the UEDF was a photocopied version of an alleged original. The problem with the photocopied document presented to the CIP was that some lines and figures had been erased with a pen and most of the figures had been inserted by writing on the photocopied letter in ink. It was patently obvious to the CIP that this was indeed a crude forgery. They did not have to take the word of the policeman for it. They saw that the photocopied document had been written over and some of its parts had been erased. Naturally, this, like all the proceedings of all CIPs has been recorded and the EU-EOM could have checked their facts if they were interested in the facts. But let us proceed to the other example the EU-EOM cites on page six.
“Another case occurred in Hagere-Selam, Sidama, where the EPRDF was also the complainant and the CIP recommended re-election. Re-run of the election allowed the current Minster of Justice, Mr. Harka Haroya to regain his seat, lost in May 15. During the hearing and, as stated in the Summary of the Facts and Recommendations of the CIP, it became clear that the Police conducted an investigation against the chairman of Wirama 01 Polling Station, Mr. Werku Dulecha, on charges of taking registration cards from voters on Polling Day. However dubious the charges could be, Mr. Dulecha was sentenced to jail for that, and despite the legal provisions to allow witnesses in prison to testify in the CIPs, he was not heard. Moreover, [an]other three election officers testified against him, paving the way for a recommendation in favour of the ruling party. The fact that NEBE election officers testified for one of the competing parties (EPRDF) and that the main witness could not defend himself does not attest to the independence neither of the CIP nor the National Election Board.”
Let me deal with the peripheral issues first and then I will let you in on a little secret. The EU-EOM emphatically asserts that the EPRDF had lost the seat on May 15th. The opposition says so and it must be so. The fact is this was one of the few constituencies in the country where no winner was declared by the NEBE because the NEBE found evidence of serious irregularities on May 15th.
The EU-EOM believes that the fact that election officers testified for one of the competing parties (EPRDF) puts the independence of the CIP and National Election Board at risk. Mind you that is just the EU-EOM of page six. The EU-EOM of page three has a very different take on that. While stating in a matter of fact manner that all parties had called election officers to testify, it suggests that what was wrong about such an act was that these witnesses were intimidated by the very presence of local officials who were representing the EPRDF in the panels. The EU-EOM of page six is however of the opinion that the very fact that three such people testified for the EPRDF is proof of the partiality of the CIPs and the National Election Board. At the very least, the EU-EOM of page three and that of page six should find some way of communicating with each other.
Back to the more serious issue which is that a certain Worku Dulecha was not heard. Let me share a little secret with you. You see on the eve of her press conference, Ms Ana Gomez, the head of the EU-EOM, had met one of our ministers and had told him that this person was prevented from testifying by the authorities. The minister told her that this was not the case as the opposition had not asked that he be allowed to testify. No one called him as a witness and so he could not testify. She must have checked her facts but did not want to let go of the accusation. That appears to be the reason behind this awkward word “he was not heard”. Now that I have let you in on the little secret, let us proceed.
This gentleman had had his day in court and was convicted by the court. The EU-EOM casts aspersions on the proceedings of the court without any evidence to show for it, but the point remains that he had had the opportunity to defend himself in a court of law. The CIPs were established to investigate complaints and not to provide prisoners their day in court. The parties are allowed to call their witnesses, and if their witnesses happen to be prisoners of law, they can still have them testify in front of the CIPs. The EPRDF called its witnesses. The oppositions called theirs. This gentleman was not called to testify by either party. Perhaps the opposition knew better than to call him as a witness, because, you see, he had been caught red-handed with 140 cards which led to his conviction. If the parties do not call him as a witness, how is the CIP going to ensure that “he is heard”. But the facts are one thing, the conclusion of the EU-EOM quite another thing. This gentleman was not heard and that is sufficient proof of the partiality of the CIPs and NEBE.
The argument that the NEBE, judiciary and CIPs were partial to the EPRDF is based on such frivolous and groundless allegation. Let us see if the EU-EOM’s other allegations fare any better.
As you might remember, the EU-EOM believes that the CIPs operated in general on the basis of their terms of reference. That suggests that in some instances these terms of reference were violated. The EU-EOM, unusually for it, felt compelled to provide some evidence of instances when the procedures were violated and it tries to do so on page five as follows:
“EU observers noted several cases in which the original complaint, as recommended by NEBE, was not the main source of investigation. Also, in a number of cases, procedures were followed accordingly (sic) to the Terms of References, only as long as international observers were present. This was the case in East Shewa, in Ada1, Ada2 and Adama2, where the EU-EOM observers noted that three complaints had been considered in just 4 days before their arrival, while afterwards each complaint took at least three days to debrief all witnesses.”
The instances where the original complaint was not the main source of the investigation are not cited. It is difficult to comment on such a general statement. But I do know that the opposition had, on a number of occasions, raised new complaints during the proceedings when their original complaints were proved baseless. I am told that some CIPs may have felt that it did not hurt the cause of truth if such new complaints too were investigated. However helpful such an approach might be to sorting out the truth, the CIPs cannot be made to investigate every allegation under the sun, which is why the Terms of Reference states that the focus of the investigations be the original complaint. Changing the rules is not acceptable, even when done to accommodate the opposition and to make sure that all allegations, new or old, are investigated. This can in no way be ground for the conclusion that the CIPs did not live up to international standards. Another conclusion impossible to comprehend.
Let us deal with the more specific allegations. You see the EU-EOM observers noted that in Eastern Shewa, the CIP had completed 3 cases in four days before they arrived. You divide 4 by 3 and you have one and one third days per case. As soon as they arrived they notice that the procedures are being adhered to but also that it is taking at least three days to complete. Presto. The procedures must have been violated, when they were absent, otherwise how could the CIP complete a case in one and one third days without violating the procedures. Besides, you see, as Ms. Ana Gomes has said in one of her frequent press statements, the presence of the EU-EOM was instrumental in ensuring democratic principles are adhered to. Naturally, in their absence people here must be assumed to go back to their old bad undemocratic ways.
The problem with the Arithmetic of the EU-EOM is that the fact tells a very different story. You see the winner in Ada 1 and 2 was the CUD. The complainant was the UEDF. The complaint was made against the EPRDF despite the fact that it had lost both constituencies. As soon as the investigations started the UEDF recognized that it had targeted the wrong party and recognized that if the investigations proceeded the EPRDF might be the ultimate beneficiary. It quickly pulled the rug from under the EPRDF’s feet and declared it had withdrawn its complaints as it had the right to do. Where there is no complaint there is no investigation. Ada 1 and 2 were thus passed without investigation and the CUD allowed to retain both seats. The only investigation carried out by the CIP before the EU-EOM arrived was thus that of Adama 2. The time it took to carry out one real investigation was thus identical both before and after the EU-EOM arrived. But the EU-EOM is not interested in the facts, because if they were, they could have been saved from the embarrassment of being caught lying by simply asking the CIP what had happened. They needed to trash the CIP and blame it on the EPRDF so they did not check their facts. They simply assumed that the natives would go back to their bad undemocratic ways if the prying eyes of the EU-EOM are temporarily absent.
Let us now deal with the third and final allegation of the EU-EOM against the CIPs, that which suggests the opposition was hindered by intimidation and arrests of their witnesses. In this regard, the EU-EOM says the following on page three.
“Material evidence was unobtainable because detained or fearful witnesses were unable to testify and, in one case, an important witness was killed. The climate of threats and intimidation was maintained throughout the complaints investigation process. EU-EOM observers reported cases, where militia, police or armed forces were present around the location of the hearings. Also opposition witnesses were arrested before or after they testified in front of the panel, and many witnesses or opposition supporters reported to the observers that they were threatened in various ways, as it happened (sic) in Albuko and Eteya constituencies.”
The EU-EOM goes into the alleged assassination in some detail on page five as follows.
“A CUD witness, Ato Wudu Amelegn, in Meragna constituency, North Sehwa Zone, was assassinated on July 16th 5 days after testifying in front of the CIP. Authorities indicated that the murder was the result of a family feud.”
The EU-EOM alleges that detained or fearful witnesses were unable to testify. It does not give any evidence of detained witnesses being unable to testify. The case of Hagere Selam, we have already dealt with. There is no other case presented by the EU-EOM, because no prisoner called to the witness stand of the CIPs by any of the parties was prevented from testifying. Not one! I also know for a fact that prisoners called to testify did testify. This was the case for example in Woliso where at least six prisoners took the stand for the opposition.
The only specific examples of witnesses being intimidated and thus being unable to testify that we are given by the EU-EOM are those of Albuko and Eteya. The evidence of intimidation in Albuko and Eteya that we are given consists solely of the say so of opposition party witnesses and supporters. If the supporters and witnesses of the opposition report to the EU-EOM observers that they were being threatened and intimidated, it meant the EPRDF was accused of doing something wrong, and according to the EU-EOM, if the EPRDF or the government were accused of doing something bad, or even perceived to have done something bad, then they must be guilty. The EU-EOM does not operate on the basis of international standards on matters that involve the EPRDF or the Government. Instead of the international standard of innocent until proven guilty, they have their own standard of guilty until proven innocent.
Let’s now deal with the presence of police, militia, and armed forces “around the locations of the hearings”. But before I do that let me say a few words about people with arms in the Ethiopian context. Ethiopia is a country where literally millions of automatic guns are in the hands of civilians. Indeed, in some parts of our country a man is not considered to be properly attired if he does not carry a gun. Imagine a scenario where Ethiopians would be intimidated by the mere sight of people carrying guns. Every Ethiopian would be trembling every day. That clearly is not the case. The sight of armed people does not intimidate anyone. Only the sight of armed men threatening someone with their arms can intimidate the average Ethiopian.
As a result, it is not unlawful for an Ethiopian to go about his/her normal business with a gun at hand. There are some places where this is not allowed. One of these is polling stations. People must leave their guns 500 meters away form a polling station. The reason behind the law that prohibits the carrying of guns within 500 meters of polling stations is not because the sight of guns would intimidate the voters. Why should the sight of some one carrying a gun 499 meters away from a polling station intimidate voters, while the sight of some one carrying a gun 501 meters away form the station does not. The reason for the regulation is to prevent someone from killing voters in the heat of contested election. It is known that the effective range of the guns that are held by civilians is less than 500 meters. If we can keep guns away from their effective range, the risk of killings in voting stations would be removed. People are also prohibited from carrying guns into courts for obvious reasons.
Therefore when the EU-EOM states that police, militia, and members of the armed forces were around the places where the CIPs were located, the average Ethiopian would say, so what? After all the CIPs were located in places where there would normally be police, militia, armed forces etc. Their very presence does not intimidate anyone. There has to be threatening behavior by people carrying guns if their presence is to have any intimidating effect. In any case there is nothing in the procedures of the CIPs which requires that such people should not be seen around the location of the CIPs. The EU-EOM do not tell us of any behavior by those armed elements. They simply assume that their very presence intimidates people. That is not a correct assumption, in Ethiopia.
I do however know of one incident where there was violation of the regulation on carrying guns. The CIPs were treated as quasi-judicial organs which means that people were not allowed to have guns inside the premises where the CIPs carried out the investigation. In Eastern Gojjam, one of the representatives of the EPRDF entered the premise with his pistol. He has a problem of family feud and he always carries his pistol with him I am confident that none of the participants felt intimidated because he kept it in its holster and did not brandish it in a threatening manner. But the fact remains that it was wrong to carry a gun inside the premises, and when that was pointed out, it never happened again. It was promptly corrected.
Let us now deal with the infamous Meragna “assassination” of an “important” opposition “witness” five days after “testifying”.
Was the deceased a witness of the opposition? The answer is no. Parties submit the list of their witnesses to the NEBE before the hearings start and as the NEBE has said, Ato Wudu was not on the list of witnesses that the CUD submitted for the hearings in Meragna.
Did Ato Wudu die on the 16th of July? The answer is yes. Did he testify for the CUD in Meragna? The answer is an emphatic no, for two reasons. First, the hearings were supposed to start on the 18th of July two days after he died. Unfortunately, on the 18th the CUD walked out from the hearings in Meragna, as a result of which Ato Wudu who was in any case already dead could not testify. None of the CUD witnesses testified in Meragna, even those that were not already dead. So how did the EU-EOM come with the allegation that he was assassinated five days after he testified? The logical answer is that in this case not only did they not try to check their facts, facts which are a matter of public record, but they did not even listen well to the opposition. The opposition’s accusations were that he was killed to prevent him from testifying. Normally, the EU-EOM would report the accusation of the opposition accurately and conclude that the EPRDF is guilty. This time they forgot to report the accusation of the opposition accurately before they pronounced the EPRDF guilty.
How about the assertion of the EU-EOM, that Ato Wudu was assassinated? The preponderance of the evidence suggests otherwise. The killer has been apprehended and his case is pending in the court at Debre Berhan, the zonal capital of Northern Shoa where Meragna is located. The killer has admitted to killing Ato Wudu because of a family feud. The kith and kin of Ato Wudu are convinced that this is indeed the case and have said so publicly. Everyone in the area knows that these two families have a family feud because it is believed that Ato Wudu had killed a family member of his killer. All of that is a matter of public record. But that is of no consequence as far as the EU-EOM is concerned. The opposition accuses and the EU-EOM pronounces the EPRDF guilty even when it has not properly listened to the opposition. Really, that is all there is to it.
The only thing remaining from the second leg of the EU-EOM’s pronouncement on the CIPs is the general accusation. All the specific examples have been shown to be unfounded. All the arguments about “coincidence of offices” and “level playing field” have been shown to be without any merit. The second leg does not exist in fact. It exists only in the fertile imagination of the EU-EOM. The case against the CIPs has been shown to have no legs at all.
Before moving on to the next item let me make two points. First, as they say, anecdotes don’t prove a case. Even if there were to be some incidents of wrong doing, that does not disqualify the process from fulfilling international standards. There are no perfect elections anywhere on earth. What distinguishes the free and fair elections from those that are not, is that in those that are not free and fair, we find not only irregularities, but patterns of frauds and serious irregularities. One has to show that there was a systematic pattern of fraud and electoral malpractice to come to the conclusion that an election process did not live up to international standards. And to show that, one has to have proof of not just incidents of irregularities but a series of such irregularities to prove that they constitute a pattern. The EU-EOM has not done that! It has not even come up with any allegation that stands up to scrutiny!
In disproving the allegations of the EU-EOM, I am not at all trying to prove that there is no case of violation of human rights in Ethiopia. I know no country on earth can say that. I recognize that such violations do occur in our country and we are trying our best to change that. I am not even saying that there was no incident during the elections that violated the laws of Ethiopia. The very fact that election re-runs have been carried out in 31 constituencies is adequate proof that there were serious irregularities in a small percentage of the constituencies.
What I am empathically saying however is that, none of these was such as to make the CIP process one that does not fulfill the requirements of international standards. There are no facts, no patterns of serous irregularities during the investigations to prove that the process was seriously flawed. I am emphatically saying the facts show that the irregularities in a small number of constituencies during the May 15 election have been redressed by the CIPs and subsequent re-run of elections.
Let us now proceed to the re-run of elections
The Grapes are Sour
Having stated that the re-runs of elections were good or very good in 88% of the cases and that they were carried out in a peaceful and orderly manner according to the law, the EU-EOM could not resist the temptation to trash the same re-runs of elections. On page seven of the Statement they outline their criticism as follows:
“1. Many voters lacked information about the re-run in their constituencies.
3. The turnout, as well, was much lower.
4. A very limited number of domestic observers were present in the Polling Stations.
5. Opposition parties’ representatives were often not present in the polling stations (CUD showed up at 4% of the polling stations, 20% for UEDF).
6. In most of the polling stations visited the chairperson did not provide sufficient information to the voters about the process and/or not in the appropriate regional language.
7. Although extremely limited cases of intimidation have been directly observed (3% of the cases), the presence, in some constituencies, of police, military forces or armed militia, even inside the polling stations, could have been perceived by voters as intimidating and was, anyhow, against the rules. This was the case namely in Kuyou, Bugna and Hagere-Selam, the last two constituencies where two top EPRDF candidates, Ministers in the current government, regained seats that they had lost according to the May 15 polling.”
I think it is pretty obvious that the list of “negative developments” is merely a matter of the EU-EOM declaring the grapes are sour and could thus be simply dismissed. But let us give the EU-EOM the benefit of the doubt that they have denied us and briefly review their criticism.
Let’s deal with the claim of intimidation first. They claim that there has been intimidation in 3% of the cases observed and you must also remember that the EU-EOM identified the constituencies that they felt would be most sensitive, most particularly the constituencies where senior EPRDF officials were candidates and made sure that they had adequate number of observers in those areas. They do not tell us what these acts of intimidation consisted of. It is possible that these so-called acts of intimidation amount to the presence of police and other armed people in and around polling stations. We have no way of knowing. Let us however for arguments sake agree that this were cases of actual intimidation. If that were to be the case it would be deplorable indeed. But clearly this does not amount to a pattern of intimidation. Even if we were to take the word of EU-EOM for it, the incidence of acts of intimidation are not such as to put the free and fair nature of the re-runs of elections in jeopardy.
The same old issue of the presence of armed people is raised in this last part of the report too. There are provisions in the law that provide for local law enforcement agencies to be present in polling stations. The presence of a limited number of law enforcement agents in polling stations to keep law and order if and when needed is in itself not contrary to international standards. The EU-EOM do not tell us as to how many law enforcement agents were in the polling stations and whether they were thereby invitation of the relevant electoral officers as the law requires. If they were thereby invitation and in numbers that is not excessive it would not be unlawful. In any case, the procedures of the CIPs which were agreed upon by all concerned parties provides for unarmed regular policemen to be present in every polling station.
If there have been armed regular police or other armed elements in the polling stations, it would be contrary to the agreement of the parties but the EU-EOM do not tell us whether that was indeed the case. If armed elements were within 500 meters of the polling stations that again would be against the law, but the EU-EOM does not tell us whether the “presence” of police, military forces or armed militia, in some constituencies, other than those who apparently were inside the polling stations, were “present” within the proscribed 500 meters.
There is also the more important issue of whether they were behaving in a threatening and intimidating manner or whether they were simply present. Their very presence does not cast any shadow on the fair and free nature of the elections. It seems however that the EU-EOM are incapable of making the distinction between the presence of armed elements and intimidation of voters.
The EU-EOM reports that opposition representatives were not present in most polling stations and there were a very limited number of domestic observers. That was indeed the case as the opposition parties and domestic observers sympathetic to them were engaged in an informal boycott of observation of the re-run in some constituencies. The issue as far as international standards is concerned is whether they were prevented from doing so. I know of only one incident where an opposition party observer was detained. As soon as that was known, the policemen who had temporarily detained the observer were detained and will have their day in court. Again the incident is deplorable. But in the end it is one incident that happened in one of the 575 polling stations where the re-runs of elections took place.
The EU-EOM reports that many voters lacked information about the re-runs of the elections and that election officers did not give sufficient explanation to voters. Remember, however, that these are the very voters who on May 15 amazed everyone with their political maturity and who voted in their millions. Almost 90% of the voters had participated in the elections on May 15th. Election officers provide information to voters if the voters need and demand it. I would be very surprised that those who went through May 15th needed or demanded any explanations from anyone. They know what to do and they had proved that on May 15th. As to the assertions that people lacked information about the re-run, again, we are kept in the dark about the details. What type of information did they lack? What percentage of voters in how many polling stations lacked this information? Without such details the assertion is essentially devoid of meaning.
I am not sure what the “international standards” are as regards participation in bi-elections or elections re-runs. I do know however that the participation rates in all established democracies are normally much lower in bi-elections or election re-runs compared to normal elections. As the elections re-runs were being carried out in mainly rural areas at the height of the rainy season, when farmers are busy with their farm activities and when standing in queues out in the open is much less comfortable than is usually the case, I would be very surprised indeed if the participation rates were not significantly lower than that of May 15th. After all, that is the international practice if not the standard.
I am not in a position to give the exact figures to compare the participation rates, to confirm or deny the EU-EOM’s assertions that voter turn-out was much lower than that of may 15th because the figures have not yet been aggregated. But I do have the figures from some of the most “sensitive” re-runs of the elections and some for ones that are not considered so sensitive. In Bugna, where an EPRDF minister lost his seat in May, 25,043 voters had been registered but 12,105, less than half of those registered, had voted. In the re-run of the election, 22,043 were registered and 21,470 had voted. In Bati , a less sensitive constituency in the Amhara region, in May, 14,120 people had been registered in the polling stations where the re-run took place and 9,176 people had voted. In the re-runs 13,941 were registered and 13,909 had voted. In Dewa Chefa, another constituency in the Amhara region which is not sensitive, 32,520 people had been registered and 25,110 had voted. In the re-runs while 30,998 had registered, 30,900 had voted. Before I proceed to other figures some commentary.
I must admit that the data from the Amhara region came as a great surprise to me. While the number of voters registered was somewhat lower in the re-runs than in the May elections, the number of people who actually voted was higher in the re-runs than in the May elections. It is as if the voters were defying normal fatigue and going out of their way to make their voices heard, by voting in greater numbers in the re-runs than in the May elections.
The case of Bugna however is a real shocker. In May, less than half of the registered voters in the affected polling stations had voted. The national participation rate at the time was close to 90%. There must have been something wrong. You see, the EPRDF had alleged that voting in rural constituencies had been deliberately sabotaged by the opposition. The figures show that for some reason more than half of the registered voters in those areas had not voted. The CIP and the NEBE gave them another chance, through an investigation which was one of those boycotted by the opposition. When they were given another chance at the height of the rainy season, they voted with a vengeance. The number of people who actually voted increased by 9,265, an increase of more than 75%. Guess what happened when all those who wanted to vote were given the chance to do so, the EPRDF won, hands down!
In Eteya, another “sensitive” constituency the re-runs took place in all polling stations. In May, 53,230 voters had registered and 45,565 voters had actually voted. In the re-run, 46,075 had registered and 45,389 had voted. The number of voters who actually voted had declined by 174 voters or 0.37% of those who voted in May. That is a reduction but an almost insignificant reduction. If you add up the figures for the 125 polling stations, the number of people who actually voted was higher than that of May 15 by more than 20%. The EU-EOM says the participation rate was much lower, the figures for some constituencies says the exact opposite.
I must hasten to add that what I have presented is still anecdotal evidence. I do not want to try to prove a case through anecdotal evidence. But as the figures come from 125 out of the total of 575 polling stations where the re-runs took place or 21.7% of the total, the figures do seem to indicate that the assertion of the EU-EOM that participation rates in the re-runs were much lower is not backed by the facts. This is all the more the case, because the EU-EOM does not back its assertion with facts and figures, even facts and figures of an anecdotal nature.
The extra-ordinarily successful election process in Ethiopia up to and including the polling day on May 15th have been hailed by many observers of African politics. The opposition parties have done spectacularly well during the elections, increasing their seats in the federal parliament by almost ten times, and making a clean sweep of the elections in Addis-Ababa. It is also true that a cloud of suspicion had been hanging over the elections because of allegations of electoral malpractice. Political tension which had been high throughout the election campaign was exacerbated by the violence in June. Many Ethiopians feel that the EU-EOM made a significant contribution to the June events by leaking a wildly speculative report which suggested that the opposition had won the elections.
Something had to be done to remove the cloud of suspicion and after difficult negotiations, all parties came to an agreement on a new system of investigating complaints about the elections. A system that paved the way for international observation of the investigations, gave the parties a key role in them and set out clear and detailed terms of reference to guide the investigations. A complex, very transparent investigative process was thus set in motion to remove the cloud of suspicion and was agreed upon by all the concerned parties. It was a system designed to work in an environment of tension and suspicion and hence the totally unprecedented international observation of the investigations.
The EU-EOM could not hide the fact that the setting up of the investigative system was a very positive development, that the investigations were generally carried out according to the terms of reference agreed by the parties, that the opposition’s evidence was weak, its witnesses “inconsistent” and its arguments weak. It could not deny that the EPRDF’s cases were substantiated and its arguments well crafted. The system worked as it was designed to.
The opposition parties presented complaints in the vast majority of constituencies where the EPRDF was declared the winner while the EPRDF made a limited number of complaints. These complaints were screened according to the procedures and many of the complaints were rejected. The parties who had the right to appeal the decisions of the screening process all the way to the Supreme Court chose not to do so and instead agreed to participate in the investigation by the CIPs.
The CIPs, having investigated the cases, having reviewed the weak evidence of the opposition parties, and the substantiated evidence of the EPRDF, having listened to the weak arguments of the opposition and the well-crafted arguments of the EPRDF, came up with their conclusion. They dismissed most of the complaints, but in 31 constituencies they found that there were serious irregularities to warrant re-runs of the elections. Given the fact that the investigations were carried out according to the terms of reference and given also that even the EU-EOM agrees that the opposition’s evidence and arguments were weak and that of the EPRDF strong, the only surprising thing about the results of the investigations is that the EPRDF did not win all the cases.
In 17 of the 31 cases the EPRDF was the complainant and it won its case. In 7 of the 31 cases the complaints were made by the opposition against the EPRDF and the EPRDF lost its case. In three of the cases, the provisional results of May 15th had not been declared by the NEBE and the investigations proved that re-runs were warranted. In 4 cases the EPRDF, together with one or the other opposition parties, including the CUD in one of the four cases, lodged complaints against other parties. In those cases, the EPRDF and the opposition parties that joined it in its complaint won their case. Re-runs of elections were held in 575 polling stations out of the 29,438 polling stations where elections were held on May 15th or slightly less than 2% of the polling stations.
This indicates that there were serious irregularities in 2% of the polling stations on May 15th. In most of those cases the culprits were the opposition parties, but in some cases it now appears that my party was the culprit. Whoever was at fault, the fact that there were such serious irregularities is deplorable and totally unacceptable. But we must remember that this was so in just under 2% of the cases. However bad this may be it does not mean that there was a pattern of serious irregularities on May 15th. Irregularities in 2% of the cases do not disqualify the elections. By international standards the May elections would still be free and fair. What is perhaps even more important is that all those cases were redressed through an unprecedently transparent investigation.
The election re-runs were good or very good in 88% of the cases according to the EU-EOM. While I am sure this underrates the re-runs, even the EU-EOM rating shows that the re-runs were basically free and fair. The fact that the preliminary results of the elections show that the EPRDF won all 31 seats is a clear indication that it retains the trust of the people. These are what the facts, including the facts that the EU-EOM could not deny incontestably prove, however much it tried to bury them beneath a pile of outright lies and innuendoes. I must say that I am immensely proud of our elections as, I am sure, is every member of the EPRDF. I have no doubt that all Ethiopians have every right to be proud and hold their chins up for carrying out an undeniably free and fair election at a time when for the first time in our history the elections were highly contested every step of the way.
One half of the arguments of the EU-EOM have nothing to do with the elections. An investigation process designed to deal with complaints in an environment of high political tension, a process that was carried out according to the terms of reference agreed by all parties, could not be justifiably criticized for not living up to international standards simply because the investigations took place in an environment of tension for which the investigation system was designed. I challenge anyone to show me an investigation process that was more transparent than ours, a process that has been keenly followed and observed by foreign observers and in which the parties were allowed to play such a critical role. The EU-EOM cannot come up with any such example because there is none.
The so-called contextual factors are neither here nor there as far as the investigations are concerned. It is true that the parliament passed legislation on the workings of the parliament and some powers that had been exercised by the municipality of Addis. As far as the investigations are concerned, the impact of these factors is not significantly higher than the fact that we have had good rains this year. The diatribe that the EU-EOM was engaged in as regards the so-called contextual factors has, as I shall show below, much more to do with the objective that they appear to have in mind, than with the investigations. The report is riddled with outright lies and half-truths when it comes to the criticism it levels on the actual conduct of the investigations. The criticism that they level on the re-runs of elections is clearly a case of the grapes are sour. In other words, they have come up with nothing substantial to prove their case. Their conclusion is based on evidence that is poorer than they say the opposition’s was, their “witnesses” are much more inconsistent than the opposition witnesses were, and their case is argued in an even weaker manner than that of the opposition. Therefore as far as the substance of their criticism and overall conclusion is concerned it could and should be dismissed with the contempt that it so richly deserves. But I believe that is not enough.
Why, Why, Why?
The EU-EOM, in Ethiopia, has become part of the problem rather than the solution beginning with the highly speculative report they leaked, a report that I believe significantly contributed to the June events. It cannot therefore be dismissed so easily. We have to learn from the experience, and in order to do that we have to ask why such a shoddy piece of work was issued in the name of the EU-EOM.
I believe the answer lies in what was not in the report, rather than in what was in it, and in order to explain that I have to let you in on another little secret. For some time now, the author of the report has been peddling a series of ideas on reforms that she says are necessary for Ethiopia. In substance, these are the very same ideas that the opposition has been peddling, including the so-called government of national unity. EPRDF had rejected those ideas with reasoned arguments. The good lady was not convinced, for as late as the eve of her press conference, she was trying to sell these ideas to some senior EPRDF officials. During one of those sales pitches, she declared that she would be making recommendations during her press conference. Indeed, these recommendations were thought to be an essential element of the statement by all parties who were given clues as to the content of the report. It was made abundantly clear to her and to all concerned that she has no business making recommendations, and that her mandate was to observe and report.
As it happens, the statement did not include the recommendations. When she was asked why during the press conference by someone who appeared to be in the know, she tried to fudge the issues and promised that the recommendations, would come soon enough. It appears therefore that the recommendations were withdrawn at the very last moment. But I have a very clear idea what these recommendations were intended to be until the eve of the press conference. It is when the statement, particularly the conclusion and the so-called contextual factors, are seen in the context of the intended recommendations that it begins to make some sense.
The conclusion that the post-polling day election process did not meet international standards, which flies in the face of the facts, even the facts that are included in the EU-EOM statement, and therefore does not make sense, begins to make sense when viewed against the unwritten but no less clearly stated “recommendation” of establishing a national unity government. The conclusion was made with the view to de-legitimizing the process and thus twist the arms of the EPRDF so that it could submit and accept this abomination of an idea.
All the clumsy dragging of concepts of “coincidence of office”, and the attribution of lies about the independence of the judiciary and the NEBE to unnamed observers, all of these shoddy concoctions that appear to make no sense at all, become meaningful when seen against “recommendations” for structural changes in the way the NEBE and the judiciary are run, changes that are designed to give the opposition a vital say in all of these institutions.
All the twisting and turning about the public media, and the analysis of municipal powers in Addis, and parliamentary procedures which make no sense from the point of view of the investigations, begin to make sense when seen from the point of view of the “recommendation” of reversing the said legislation and restructuring the public media so that the opposition will have the final say. The good lady did not include the good rains we have had this summer as a reason for her conclusion on the elections, perhaps because she had no “recommendation” that goes with it.
All of these bad ideas were discussed with her in the spirit of partnership enshrined in the Cotonou agreement that exists between Ethiopia and the European Union. She was told that these are bad ideas unacceptable to the EPRDF. The good lady can apparently not take NO for an answer from the natives. She had a card in her hands, the report of election observation, that in unscrupulous hands could be used as hostage to blackmail the EPRDF into accepting those really bad ideas, and she appears to have gone for it. The good lady apparently does not know her Ethiopian history, or her EPRDF’s. She apparently does not understand that as soon as these merely bad ideas become tainted by association with an election observer turned self-appointed colonial viceroy hell-bent on twisting the arms of the government to force it to accept her dictates, merely discussing the ideas, let alone accepting them, becomes unthinkable. The good lady does not appear to understand that what her action succeeded in doing is put the last nail in the coffin of her “recommendations”.
Already, theories of how the good lady’s antipathies have led to the issuing of such a statement have cropped up. I can only hope that that is all there is to it. What cannot be denied is that in a certain sense we may have been lucky. If the election report must be used as an instrument of blackmail, as a weapon to impose “recommendations” on the host government, and massaged accordingly, it is very helpful that such observation missions be headed by some amateurs in that art, as the good lady clearly was. This is so because amateurs would doctor the report in such a clumsy fashion that it becomes relatively easy to pick it apart.
The main question facing us Ethiopians, is where do we go from here? Whenever I am faced with difficult challenges, challenges that could potentially be of existential significance, the first question I ask is what would the average Ethiopian peasant do under such circumstances? I ask this question not for sentimental reasons but because I know of no other Ethiopians who are better masters of the art of overcoming existential challenges. Murderous foreign and local wars have taken place in this country. The peasant bore the brunt of each one of them, but always came out on top. Governments of all colours have come and gone, the hardy old peasant has outlived them all. Horrific famines of biblical proportions have come and gone, the peasant has survived them all. Hence, there is no greater sage to consult on such matters. So once again what would your average Ethiopian peasant do? Having lived with him/her for some 17 years I think I know.
The peasant hates injustice like no other abomination. You can therefore bet your life that plan A of the peasant in such circumstances would be to fight the injustice tooth and nail, with no holds barred, with the view to correcting the injustices. But your average peasant would not be the sage of facing existential challenges if he/she only had one plan. Again you can bet your life that there would at least be a plan B just in case the perpetrator of the injustice was able to get away with murder.
Plan B would start with strengthening the peasants fortress, his/her homestead, so that it can withstand the possible temper tantrums of the spurned perpetrator of the injustice. Having done that, the peasant would plan to treat his/her tormentor with the disdain and contempt he/she deserves and move on with his/her eternal struggle to keep body and soul together. I believe we can do no less or no better than that. As our brothers the Southern African freedom fighters used to say, in Portuguese, La Lutta Continua! the struggle for a prosperous and democratic Ethiopia must and will go on despite the challenges. We in the EPRDF have faced off many more serious challenges. We must face this one with the same unflinching commitment to principles and justice. We cannot and must not falter in the face of this or other, even more formidable challenges in the future.
Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity.
31st August 2005