Analyzing Professor Beyene’s remarks on the code of conduct for political parties

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Analyzing Professor Beyene’s remarks on the code of conduct for political parties

By Bereket Gebru 01-08-15

After recently reading news reports that Professor Beyene Petros stated that his party, Ethiopian Federal Democratic Union, would sign the electoral code of conduct for political parties if additional things are included, I went on to see if those things have not been already addressed in the proclamation. The points raised by the Professor as complementary add-ons are capable election administration, behavior of political parties during election and activities of election observers. The Professor also stressed that the ruling party should also hold discussion on various issues with opposition political parties. He also called for the establishment of special electoral courts that deal with electoral complaints at various local government levels.

 

Professor Beyene Petros then expressed his party’s readiness to become signatory to the code of conduct if the preconditions he stated earlier would be met. The Professor also said that his party would not feel defeated if it became a signatory of the code of conduct considering that its aim and activity is popular.

 

The Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Party (EPRDF), the ruling party, responded to the Forum’s demands by stating that numerous political parties, including the Forum, were invited to discuss on the draft code of ethics. The news report states that the political party walked off discussions on the code of ethics not once but thrice. Then, it states that the EPRDF disclosed that recent queries by the party are not appropriate as the proclamation has been adopted and enforced for over three years.   

 

This article deals with the proclamation on the code of conduct of political parties examining if the additional remarks by the Forum are indeed missing. It generally deals with whether the proclamation has sections that may not be in the best interest of opposition political parties.

 

Let’s first consider the points raised by Professor Beyene one by one and check if those things have not been covered by the proclamation on the code of conduct of political parties. One of the complementary add-ons he suggested was a section on the behavior of political parties during times of election.

 

The first suggestion by Professor Beyene Petros had to do with capable election administration. The Election Board being the body in charge of election administration, his comments seem to be about building the capacity of this body. Accordingly, various activities have been carried out to build the capacity of the Board. Recent news reports have also stated of the efforts by the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia to build the capacity of regional branch offices to make the upcoming 2015 general elections fair and democratic. The news report states that restructuring of regional offices has been undertaken for the success of the general elections citing Board Chairperson, Professor Merga Bekana. The Board has already finalized preparation of basic election materials to be used by the offices and distributed vehicles to four regional states and two city administrations. Training has been provided for heads of offices on relevant rules and regulations, crises management and other related issues, the Chairperson was quoted as saying.

 

Another suggestion by the Professor has to do with a section on the behavior of political parties. The Proclamation on the code of conduct of political parties, as the name clearly shows, is a set of rules and regulations dictating the behavior of political parties, individuals and various institutions during elections. This fact has been clearly stated in the preamble. It states:

 

Bearing in mind that lessons drawn from previous elections necessitates the promulgation of detailed code of conduct for political parties, candidates, members and supporters of political parties to ensure that subsequent elections are guided by ethical rules of conduct and that they are transparent, free, legitimate, fair, peaceful, democratic and acceptable by the people…

Recognizing that the Election Board, the mass media and the justice institutions should be independent and impartial from any political party in their activities; recognizing also that the National Defense Forces are made to discharge their responsibilities based on the constitution without any influence from the political parties;

 

As has been stated above, the proclamation itself is a result of the recognition of the need to mainstream acceptable behaviors by parties, candidates and supporters into a common frame for all. Further provisions determining the behavior of these bodies are also included in the proclamation. One of these provisions is Section 2, 8 and it deals with campaign management. It states:

 

1/ Any Political party shall;

a) Respect the right and freedom of all other parties to campaign, and to disseminate

b) Conduct itself in a manner that respects the rights of other parties, and respect the rights of voters and other members of the community;

c) Respect the freedom of the miss media;

d) Use its good offices to seek to ensure reasonable freedom of access by all parties to all potential voters; and

e) Seek to ensure that potential voters wishing to participate in related political activities have freedom to do so.

 

 

2/ Any political party may not;

a) Harass or obstruct private or Government journalists who are engaged in their professional Activities, disrupt, destroy or frustrate the campaign efforts of any other party;

b) Prevent the distribution of handbills and leaflets, and the display of posters, of other parties and candidates;

c) Deface or destroy the posters of other parties and candidates;

d) Prevent or in any way hamper any other party from holding rallies, meetings, marches or demonstrations;

e) Seek to prevent any person from attending the political rallies of another party; or

f) Permit supporters to do anything prohibited by this section.

 

Yet another one these provisions dealing with the behavior of these bodies is Section 2, 11 entitled ‘content of campaign speech’. It states:

11. Content of campaign speech

1. Every political party shall;

a) Organize and conduct its election campaign in a manner that contributes toward a congenial and peaceful atmosphere during the campaign, polling, counting, and post-election period; and

b) Act with a sense of responsibility and dignity befitting its status. 

2. Every speaker at political rallies shall refrain from

a) Making inflammatory, or defamatory statements

b) Threatening or inciting violence in any form against any person or groups.

3. A political party may not issue or distribute either officially or anonymously, pamphlets, newsletters or posters containing language or material that threatens or incites violence.

4. Without prejudice to other laws no one shall exert pressure on political parties or candidates based on their speech during the election campaign.

 

Moreover, the proclamation clearly states the duties of political parties and candidates as stated in Section 3, 17 entitled ‘duties of political parties and candidates’.

 

17. Duties of political parties and candidates.

 

1. Every political party and every candidate shall promote the purpose of this Proclamation to the voters, candidates, member and supporters and ensure that it is known and respected by its members.

 

2. Every political party shall promote and support efforts to educate voters during election campaign:

 

3. Any political party and candidate shall

 

(a) Comply with this Proclamation;

(b) Provide leadership to its candidates, officials, representatives members and supporters, to comply with this Proclamation electoral laws, and shall take appropriate measures to ensure compliance.

 

4. Every political party and candidate shall have the duty to publicly state that everyone has the right:

(a) To freely express political views and opinions.

(b) To challenge and debate the political views and opinions of others.

(c) To publish and distribute his own election and campaign materials.

(d) To lawfully display banners, bill boards and posters.

(e) To canvass financial, material and other support for a party or

(f) To recruit members for a party.

(g) To hold public meeting.

(h) To attend public meeting.

 

5. Political parties and candidates shall publicly declare their commitment to abide by the proclamation and the codes of conduct therein.

6. Every political party and candidate shall publicly condemn any action that may harm or undermine the conduct of free and fair elections.

 

Yet another issue raised by Professor Beyene was the establishment of special electoral courts that deal with electoral complaints at various local government levels. Considering the acute shortage of time to establish such courts at all local governments in the remaining five months to the election, in addition to the presence of other already established courts in line with the proclamation, I have resorted to taking a look at the complaint lodging provisions of the proclamation. Accordingly, Section 5, 24 deals with complaint lodging. It states:

 

24 Lodging of complaints

1. Without prejudice to the right to lodge complaints to election official, any one who believes that this Proclamation is violated may submit complaints supported by evidence to the joint council

 

2. Without prejudice to the power given to the board, the Joint Council may directly investigate or establish an inquiry committee when it receives complaints of violation of this proclamation.

 

3. Parties, candidates or concerned government organs, shall have the duty to cooperate when the Joint Council itself or an inquiry committee appointed by it undertakes an investigation on complaints of violation of this Proclamation.

 

The complaint lodged would then be handled by the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia, the Joint Council to be made up of members of the ruling and opposition parties. With all these three bodies capable of handling complaints, the importance of establishing a fourth body seems to be farfetched.

 

The Professor also stressed that the ruling party should hold discussion on various issues with opposition political parties. This issue, as has been the case with other points raised by him, is also dealt with by the Proclamation on the code of conduct of political parties. Section 2, 16 of the proclamation, entitled ‘continued communications’, is one of the provisions dealing with this issue. It states:

 

16. Continued Communications

1. Every political party shall make every effort to continuously communicate with other parties.

 

2. Without prejudice to provisions provided by election law, a joint council shall be formed to serve as a forum for discussion of issues of common concern during an electoral campaign or any other time.

 

3. Independent Candidates may participate in the joint council as observers. They may lodge their complaints to the joint council for decision.

 

4. Election officials shall not attend the meeting of the joint council. They may participate without a right to vote in the meetings of the joint council if the council passes a unanimous decision to this effect.

 

Another provision of the proclamation dealing with the need to communicate and work together is section 4, 20 entitled ‘the establishment of joint council’. It states:

 

20. The establishment of joint council

Contesting political parties shall establish a joint council in accordance with art 16 of this code to enforce this law, to amicably resolve election matters in a manner that promotes democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

 

2. Without prejudice to the forum of political parties established by the Board in accordance with the electoral law, joint councils shall be established at all levels ranging from the Federal to the constituencies.

 

The provision further states that the organization of the council would encompass all political parties registered to run for election

 

21 Organization of the joint council

1. National joint council shall be organized as follows;       

(a) National Joint Council shall be composed of political parties registered to run for election at national level.

(b) The number of representatives of each party shall be determined by directives to be issued by the Joint Council.

 

The objective of the joint council is also clearly stated as:

22. Objective of the Joint Council:

The Joint Councils shall have the objective to

1. Serve as a common forum to enable political parties discharge their constitutional duties guided by the Proclamation to ensure that elections are free, fair, transparent, democratic, credible and peaceful.

 

2. To serve as a forum for dialogue, consultation and control on matters that may arise in relation to the process or results of elections and generally all matters that may arise in inter party relationships and amicably resolve problems in accordance with election law and this Proclamation.

 

 

In what has become quite a trend in recent years, especially in developing countries, elections have gone astray from their perceived goal of ensuring peaceful transition of political power. Kenya, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Thailand are just a few of the countries that undergone post-election violence as our country did in 2005.

 

In general, election-related violence strips people off the benefits of peaceful elections. They block people’s rights to elect and be elected, deny people the opportunity to place capable individuals who can tackle problems in local and national councils, dwindle the development of a multi-party system at local and national stages while promoting adverse conditions for the promotion of peace and democracy. Although various nation states have different mechanisms of contesting elections results, post-election violence gives no room for handling grievances through the institutionalized route. Consequently, the ever present questions of development, democracy and good governance that the rioters claim to be raising get side-lined by one big brawl.

 

Therefore, it is our duty as citizens to vigilantly stay guard for the peaceful completion of the upcoming local election. We should make sure that we would be the beneficiaries of a free, fair and peaceful competitive election which would positively reinforce our on-going democratic and economic strides.

 

As has been demonstrated in the above article, most if not all suggestions by Professor Beyene Petros have been included in the Proclamation. As has been evident, the provisions of the proclamation intend to promote free, fair and transparent elections. Therefore, as rightly pointed out by Professor Beyene Petros, signing it cannot be a sign of weakness or defeat but of understanding of the need to work together to promote democracy.

 

 

 

 





 

 




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