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Arena party has to provide a less contradictory reason for its non-participation in the election in Tigray

Arena party has to provide a less contradictory reason for its non-participation in the election in Tigray

Yohannes Aberra, PhD



Every human being, as an individual or as a member or leader of any group, has the inalienable right to reject what it does not like to have or accept what it is interested in. Arena party has the right to decide not to participate in the election in Tigray on its own free will. Problem arises when the rationale for non participation, when participation is most expected, lacks coherence and is contradictory. A party which has political heavy weights in its ranks would be expected to state reasons for its decision in a more consistent way to convince the nonpartisan audience like us.  In stark contrast to this background the party has decided against participating in the election and advised the TPLF to engage in dialogue with the Central government instead. This is where the contradiction starts. No party has the right to tell another party what to do and not do. Any party including Arena has its own programmes of action. If Arena does not listen to TPLF when the latter tells the former what to do and what not to do why is Arena expecting TPLF to listen to its recommendations? By the way, holding elections in Tigray does not rule out the need for dialogue with the Central government. The two are not substitutes of each other. Alongside elections dialogue is needed for the Central government to refrain from too much of baby sitting in the affairs of Tigray: an autonomous Region on the basis of Federal arrangement guaranteed by the supreme law of the land. The dialogue is useful for Tigray because it can save its political and economic energy for development rather than for unnecessary tensions with the Central government. The talk can help both to prevent the escalation of politics into unchartered territory unknown to both.    

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The only path to peaceful transition in Tigray is a slow and steady process of building democracy. This cannot be put off for the future. It has to be started right now with the available options and tools at Tigray's disposal. It is unrealistic to dream for a perfect democracy to appear at once. In the cradle of democracy- ancient Greece- democracy did not shine bright as soon as it was created. Slaves and the poor did not have the right to vote. USA did not have women voters until the turn of the last century. What has started in Tigray is the infancy of democracy. It is for the first time in the history of Tigray that opposition parties are campaigning for election. It can be weak, it can be insufficient in time and space; but the fact that it started to happen has to be applauded. No need to rush. Democracy like a house is built brick by brick. We have to be patient like the brick-layer if we want the building to last long enough. From what we hear and from what we read the people of Tigray did not stand against the democratic experiment. I am not a big fan of TPLF; but I swallow the Tigrean reality whole that TPLF has a huge mass base in the Region and there is sufficient reason for it. So, for many years to come, we all have to admit, TPLF will continue to be a decisively important party in the Tigrean political arena. The "gedli factor" which has created the bondage between TPLF and the people, despite the frequent administrative hiccups, will not be fading away for several decades to come. Arena party is not participating in the election in Tigray for the following reasons (BBC Tigrigna 27 Hamle, 2020 Amdom Gebreselassie):

1.  The election in Tigray is unconstitutional

2.  The election cannot be free and fair

3.  There are no independent election observers drawn from human rights organizations and civic societies not associated with TPLF that can freely move around in Tigray to supervise the election

4.  There is harassment on opposition parties in Tigray by the TPLF

5.   The spread of Corona virus doesnt allow the election process to be conducted smoothly without causing health hazard

6.  There is no enough time for opposition parties for an effective election campaign

7.   The election in Tigray is not organized and run by the National Election Board as per the Constitution

8.  **The Federal government has violated the Constitution by postponing the elections beyond the strict five year limit

The election in Tigray is disapproved by the Central Government for not abiding by the decision of the Upper House of the Federal Parliament to postpone the elections and for not being organized and conducted by the National Election Board. In fact the latter logically follows from the former in that the Board cannot organize elections when the House has formally postponed the elections. Reason No.1 the election in Tigray is unconstitutional. So Arena does not want to be involved in the violatation of the Constitution by participating in illegal elections. It is noble to be legal; but where does the legality and illegality lie? Who decides what is legal and what is illegal? Reason No.1 and No.7 are connected. Election in Tigray becomes unconstitutional because the prerogative of the Board of Elections to manage elections throughout Ethiopia is violated by Tigray Regional Government. On the other hand Tigray Regional Government is referring to the relevant articles in the Constitution that there is no legal loophole that allows going around the articles that boldly state elections be held in time or on time. So, Tigray Regional Government has a point in rigidly adhering to the Constitutional dictates. Tigray Regional Government is violating the Constitutional provision about the mandate of the Board of Elections based on its argument that the Federal Government is unconstitutionally postponing the elections. Hence, the Tigray Regional Government is taking the devils alternative: On one side loyality to the Constitution by holding elections as per the dictates of the law which is disapproved by the Central Government; on the other side engage in the unconstitutional act of taking away the mandate of the Board and replacing it by a Regional one, an action provoked by the bypassing of the Constitutional dictates about election timing by the Federal Upper House based on Constitutional interpretation.

Arena is lost in the maze of arguments and counter arguments on the constitutional dictates and mandates. Under reason No.1 it strongly states that election in Tigray is unconstitutional, but under No.8 it criticizes the Federal Government for postponing the elections as a violation of the Constitutional dictates restricting tenure for only five years. If Arena thinks that the Federal Government is violating the Constitution by postponing elections why is it accusing the Tigray Regional Government for holding elections? If the Federal Government is wrong in postponing elections the National Board of Elections cannot be right in accusing Tigray Regional Government for having its own Board as a replacement, after a failed effort of getting the National Boards support. Arena, which is better, a complete violation of the Constitution or a partial one? If Arena holds that the postponement of National elections is wrong is it expecting the Tigray Regional Government to join the bandwagon of wrong doing against the Constitution which Arena believes is violated by the Central Government and its election Board?  Arenas reason No.5 for its decision against participating in the elections in Tigray is the Corona Pandemic. Arena is right in this point because the virus is spreading fast and wide including in Tigray. We all know so does the TPLF, that the voters and organizers in Tigray are not Corona-proof. They are as susceptible as any human being can be. The question here is the continuity of societies and their polities, which has to be ensured at all costs. Wars come and go; so do Pandemics. At the same time, generations come and go. It is the responsibility of every generation to make sure that there will be a next and a next and a next generation that continues at a progressively higher level of standard of living, rule of law, and democratic order. When the poor Chinese toiled in the early 50s to build China as a big economic power house they had the Chinese of the 21st Century who are having a reasonably higher standard of living in mind. There are sacrifices made by a generation to ensure the well being of the following generations in a noble sense of altruism. Arena knows very well that the basic reason given by the Federal Government for postponing the elections is the threat of the Corona Pandemic. If Arena is convinced that it is dangerous to hold elections during the Corona Pandemic, why is it criticizing the Central Government for postponing the elections because of the Corona Pandemic? The Central Government has not mentioned any other reason than the Pandemic for postponing the National elections. Was it Ok for Arena to conduct National elections on time disregarding the threat of Corona spread? If so, why did Arena find it wrong to hold elections in Tigray under the threat of Corona spread? Is there a more powerful Corona virus in Tigray that would kill more Tigrean voters than others elsewhere in Ethiopia? Honesty should be the best policy here! Let me probe into the Reasons No. 2, 3, 4 and 6 for Arenas decision not to participate in the elections in Tigray. These four reasons clash head on with reason No. 1. If the election in Tigray is unconstitutional everything stops there. Reasons No. 2, 3, 4 and 6 become automatically irrelevant. You cannot have election which is illegal on the one hand and not organized enough for participation on the other. If the election is illegal it is a waste of time to talk about the presence or absence of independent observers; enough or not enough time for campaigning; and the prophesy that the elections will not be free and fair. Arena considers the election as illegal on the wrong side of its brain and at the same time hesitates and wants to participate on the right side of its brain. It cannot stay firm on the illegality side because it would be double standards to hold a precarious stand point of considering the decision of the Federal Government to postpone elections as illegal and at the same time holding elections in Tigray also as illegal. Arena is helplessly standing in the middle trying to find a sound justification, for its decision not to participate, where it does not exist. Arena killed its main reason for not participating by its own hands. If postponing elections by the Federal Government is wrong conducting timely elections in Tigray must be right as per the logic of the matter at hand. So Arenas illegality of elections in Tigray is dead! The face saving reasons remain: a possibility of rigging elections, no enough time for election campaigns, and no impartial observers. We have reports that the parties in Tigray who have decided to participate in the elections are also complaining about the shortage of time. They are also saying that it is tolerable given the difficult circumstances the Region is in. In fact it must have been the new parties that are justified in complaining about the brevity of the time allotted for election campaigns. Arena has been in the Region for long enough now. It had the advantage over the new parties to tell every Tigrean soul what Arena is all about. Unfortunately, Arena wasted the bulk of its time complaining and accusing the TPLF as a tyrant; for imposing rein of terror in Tigray, and painting all hues of dark color. Arena also wasted its time by shuttling between Addis Ababa and Mekelle while its main job lies squarely in Tigray. Arena is talking about something impractical. Independent election observers cannot travel to Tigray for reasons which are well known to Arena. No independent observer has as yet expressed its readiness to supervise elections in Tigray. While Addis Ababa is trying to stop the election in Tigray how is Arena expecting independent observers to be provided with visas and travel to Tigray? If what Arena is referring to as independent observers are Ethiopians residing in Ethiopia, it is hard to distinguish who is independent and who is not in the Ethiopian political arena where there seems to be a consensus in branding whatever is done in Tigray led by TPLF as a rebellion to be punished. Arena is avoiding elections in Tigray because it may not be free and fair. Yes, it may be not be free and fair, or it may also be free and fair! If free and fair elections are ensured where there are independent observers, well it is unfortunate that they are not available. Should Tigray wait until they are available? For how long? Is it sure to get them even after a long wait? If one accepts that elections have to be conducted in Tigray then you can only do what you can possibly do. I dont think TPLF has any valid reason to rig elections this time around. I believe that it wants to prove itself in the face of its former partners that it is determined to hold free and fair elections even at a cost to its position.

Arena is the first opposition party to operate in Tigray in the middle of an all out domination of the politics in Tigray by TPLF. We know it was not easy! While opposition parties elsewhere in Ethiopia were working with relative ease it was nearly impossible for pluralism to prevail in Tigray where it was most deserved. There was jailing and harassment of opposition members including the leaders. No democratic mind can approve or tolerate this. However, TPLF cannot be viewed as a domicile of political angels in heaven or some alien in a distant planet. Whether we love it or hate it the Machiavellian instincts are inside all of us. Arena should not be so angry with TPLF for not resigning and handing over to Arena just like that. What if it was the other way round? TPLF as opposition and Arena as a ruling party? Would Arena cordially invite TPLF to take the throne without a hustle? Arena has to admit that it would never do anything like that. It is a normal part of political life not only in Tigray but even also in the USA that competing parties play all kinds of tricks on each other. In what is considered to be the most mature democracy in the world-USA-Democrats do all kinds of evil things on Republicans and the vice versa. Allegedly with full knowledge of President Nixon or his aides the Democratic Partys National Convention complex at Watergate was broken into. Trump allied with foreign powers against Democrats. The difference is, in the USA no one goes away with it, but no one refrains from trying. Tigray is not like the USA. Tigray has never been a democracy. Several centuries of degrading hereditary rule, seventeen years of brutal military dictatorship, and thirty years of single party rule though the latter is not externally imposed and a hundred times better than previous rules. The only way to survive in this context as an opposition party is firstly, to accept the right to self rule for the people without external interference into their internal affairs as much as it is provided by the Federal arrangement. For instance, who rules in Tigray is up to the people of Tigray to decide. Secondly, there is no mature democratic culture in the Region; it is yet to evolve if the beginning of the evolution is not hampered by over expectations. Hence, it is quite expected for opposition parties to face hardships, serious and discouraging obstacles on their way. The only remedy is not to run away, complain and seek outside help to ensure success but to face it head on in a give and take basis. It is important to remind Arena that it turned into an opposition party from being a faction of the TPLF. There are understandable grudges on the side of the TPLF mainstream on the minority faction which turned into an opposition party. If the faction cannot survive as members and leaders inside TPLF how is it possible for them to survive as opposition to a party that they demonized, they are demonizing and want to overthrow it? How is TPLF as a group of human beings expected to tolerate Arena? We all recall the bad mood in the rest of the TPLF majority and among the war veterans against the faction who had no intention for any compromise. Few liked what they did, sorry to say, including myself. With this uncomfortable background which was not taken well by the people Arena should not expect TPLF to evaporate and leave the political space entirely for it. Thirdly, if Arena claims its constituency to be the people of Tigray, it must stick to that. Whatever complaints it has on TPLF must be an internal affair of Tigray. The people are not too ignorant to see who is on the right track and who is not. Making the complaints and accusations on TPLF global news item does not help in improving relationship with the Ruling party which has the capacity to take drastic action if it feels pushed and shoved too much. It is natural for TPLF to brand Arena as an externally motivated political force if the latter helps the National anti-TPLF propaganda by adding more and more fuel to it. I am not advocating for TPLF, I am describing the ground reality that Arena is failing to see from too high above. TPLF and the people with it toiled for 17 years because they did not share EPRPs optimism that the Derg can be confused into submission in a matter of few months or weeks. Incumbents as a matter of responsibility for the people or selfishness or both do not abdicate because some party asked them or coerced them to. The issue about TPLF is more an emotive than a political one. The bondage between TPLF and the people of Tigray is glued by blood more than it is by politics. I think this is the reason why so many people are puzzled by the accommodative behavior of the people towards TPLF in spite of the so much maladministration and neglect. No one has the right to blame people and criminalize them for feeling safer in the hands of the TPLF where the most important factor is social psychology rather than political rationality. It is only those who live it that can properly understand it. Arena is acting weirdly as if it does not understand what is linking the people and TPLF despite its weaknesses in several fields of democracy and governance. That is why it is struggling to swim against the current of objective realities of politics in Tigray that prevailed throughout the last half a century. Arena claims to be talking the ultimate truth; and expects everyone to accept it. The absolute truth is that there is no absolute truth in the possession of an individual or a group that claims to have one. The absolute truth is that truth does not become truth because the truthful thinks so. Truth is only relative and one has to be wise enough to get it in its appropriate context and act accordingly. If Arena fails to participate in this experimental election I can safely guess that red carpet is not going to be rolled out for in any future elections. If it is hoping that the entire election in Tigray will be null and void so that Arena can have some God sent chance of prevailing in Tigray it would simply prove that Arena has little respect for the electorate.





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