How to Make 2010 elections PEACEFUL

                                (Part Three) 

 

 

Desalegn Lidetu abaydagi@yahoo.com                                   

(09/09/09)

 Peace is a necessary pre-requisite for democratization, which in turn should enhance the conditions for the prevalence of dependable nationwide tranquility. Without them, it would be hard to foresee sustainability of growth and development. Bus as has been witnessed time and again in many fledgling democracies in Africa and beyond, the apparent peace that prevailed for the best part of the period following a former electoral event is threatened at or in the immediate aftermath of a latter one.

 

The reasons why electoral tensions soon escalate into street confrontations in many developing countries in the days after official vote count announcements can be many and may differ from region to region and country to country according to existing realities specific to time as well as internal and external factors that play up on the general political climate in this or that nation.

 

It is not difficult, however, to see an overarching common character that cuts across national boundaries in Africa: presence of one or more parties openly hostile to an incumbent. Whenever such a party can wield a measure of influence domestically, visibility with the international community – ho, yes – wherever such a party can work these conditions to its advantage, sniff for a snafu and you are likely to find one somewhere down the electoral process, most probably in the post election days.

 

Here are three more points that I think should be considered to bridge gaps in the general electoral practice in Ethiopia by improving inter-party communication and understanding. There are: partnership, sound debate, and voter education.

 

Partnership

 

Commenting in general terms on the role of opposition in Ethiopian politics, Government Communications Affairs Office Minister Bereket Semeon  says it looked better than what had been the case five or so years ago. This doesn’t mean, however, that dissent politics has come far enough to take up roles as meaningful, constructive and clear-cut as it ought to. As a case in point, according to Minister Bereket, most opposition parties were yet to demonstrate the required level of good will to work as partners with required level of good will to work as partners with the government on a number of issues that need political consensus across the board generally, and in terms of electoral state of affairs in particular.

 

In spite of incessant clamoring by some political parties and interest groups as to the question of political space, the Minister asserts that Ethiopia’s democratization has come so far enough to reach “a point of no return”. Reassuring as it is, this should rekindle hopes among the electorate.

 

Weak or non-existent partnership among political actors is perhaps one of the most glaring loopholes in the country’s democratization. Come the year of electoral contest, this shortcoming manifest itself in various ways and manners making it difficult for separate cases of dispute to be settled in due course and in good time.

 

As I see it, in the event that separate and related cases of electoral dispute are left to impending bad day later on. Add this to any likelihood of what during the 2005 election event had come as conscious tendencies by some political parties driving their campaign tactics along the bumpy lines of hairsplitting and express hostility, and you may be justified to fear for an impending sores day.

 

The good thing is some operators of local press in the country today are demonstrating a better level of impartiality in the kind of political material they publish. The proof, I think, is to be found in the critique directed at the country’s opposition in op-ed pages in privately owned newspapers. Opposition parties are being criticized – a trend almost non-existent during the past election event – for lack of internal organizational strength, for entering electoral contest while their leadership was being torn apart by intrigues, and for lacking alternative agenda et cetera.

 

The recent brickbat within the leadership of UDJ (Andinet) party may clearly explain the truth of the claims that some of the most popular opposition parties are not in good shape. It would have been more credible if the complaints for space by these kind of parties had followed their having democratized their internal workings.

 

Electoral peace would be helped if there was a good level of inter-party cooperation. It is high time all the major opposition parties addressed their internal problems and partnered with the government.

 

Yak to a Limit

Worse too is a yak-yakking beyond one’s worth at crucial moments of electoral process. This is to remind contending parties of a need to make better use of platforms for a face-to-face inter-party debate and of TV/Radio airtime and newspaper space for popularization of agenda.

 

Remember the kind of debates we watched live on TV during the 2005 elections. It is true those moments of all the various electoral phases turned out to be the most popular attention grabber across the country. The question remains: How much did we really get by way of substance from those inter-party encounters? Not much really. Most of debating encounters then saw overheated verbal battle as one candidate tried to put the other off-guard by throwing whatever strongly-worded words one could command- no matter insensitive or senseless the utterances.

 

If most in the audience liked those encounters – as they actually did – it was more for their having offered a clear sign of active democratization that for what had been offered by way of alternatives. This time around debating parties would do good if they give us more by way of substance and less of the bickering.

 

Voter Education

 

In the Ethiopian electoral practice so far, voter education is very much limited to showing people how to cast their ballot. More should be offered in this regard and it should begin earlier in the electoral process. This, I believe, would contribute to the peaceful conduct of the upcoming elections.

 

Not the least important is also a need for political parties to come together and hammer out ways – may be through a common code of conduct – to direct and control the behaviors in public events of their members and supporters. (ENDITEM)