Some thoughts about the upcoming Ethiopian Election

 

Yohannes Gebresellasie (Ph.d) Canada (09/10/09)

 

Peaceful, free, fair and democratic election is a sign of a civilized society. Because democracy is not simply static rather because it is dynamic, vibrant and a growing process, there exists some technical and administrative set-backs, disputes and discrepancies here and there during any electoral processes and/or electoral proceedings. When that happens however, a civilized society opts for a peaceful and democratic ways and means of resolving and settling existing disputes or differences avoiding any violent action as ways and means of settling differences that may exist during the electoral process. Further, a civilized society always takes a lesson or two from its own previous electoral mistakes and from the mistakes of others in order to improve the electoral procedure of the next election with a view of conducting a better organized and with minimum or no fault future election.

 

Whereas peace and stability is a key factor for implementing a free, fair and democratic national election, peace process in not an easy task. Peace process requires continual commitment and effort by politicians, the public at large, the civic society and the international community working together. When that happens, dreams of a free, fair and democratic election can become a reality and that is what is hoped for the upcoming forth national election and for that, everyone should work together to make it happen. Generally, any election did not pass without incidents; however, people learn from those incidents and dream for a better and smoother next election. As for tomorrow, there is still the Ethiopian Dream and there is no reason why that dream can not be realized with equal vigor. Since expectations are becoming very high amongst the public at large for a free, fair and democratic election and since elections are by themselves significant to human freedom and democratic values, the prevalence of peace and stability in that regard is not only significant but indeed indispensable.

 

Peace and peace process can be difficult. This is partially because people hold different values about the causes of a conflict or causes for the lack of peace even though everyone hopes that everything has to be done to help make election a successful event. Since the desire for a free, fair and democratic election is a top priority for everyone and since the implementation of this top priority depends solely on one factor i.e. the prevalence of peace; it should be underscored that the prevalence of peace has to be the number one priority of the government and the public at large. Also, the government must make sure that peace is effectively safe-guarded and maintained in order for democracy to flourish. Further, it is important for politicians to address this fundamental issue prior to election and pledge for a free, fair and democratic election. Also, the public at large must have a greater understanding, respect and capacity for democratic concepts such as tolerance, accountability and the rule of law.

 

A prominent concern prior to any election is the rule of law. Any democratic progress including the prevalence and protection of human rights and other worthy objectives are all believed to hinge, at least on part; on the rule of law therefore, for elections to be free, fair and democratic, policy makers and the public at large must establish and strengthen the rule of law. When that happens, there will be a great voter turn-out and the next election can be the most democratic in the history of this nation.   

 

Some of the leading democracies such as the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Franc etc have learned form their electoral mistakes and from the electoral mistakes of other countries in order to conduct the best electoral procedures and preceding in the world. However, they too are not yet perfect in that regard. They too have not yet been free of any electoral miss-conducts and they too are not yet without electoral discrepancies and draw backs. Generally speaking, they too still make few mistakes here and there and they too are often blamed for few electoral discrepancies and electoral miss-conducts and party ramblings happen even in those countries with many years experience in democratization and good governance as well. However, there is one very important issue these countries take into a very serious consideration and that is: When disputes, difficulties and discrepancies occur, they know that there are mechanisms some civilized and others uncivilized ways and means of resolving prevailing conflicts and these countries always opt for a peaceful and democratic ways and means to resolve and settle their differences because according to them, the issue of tolerance takes precedence to anything else and because the adherence to the rule of law always prevails. As a result, if differences occur, competing parties of the above and other advanced democracies sit and discuss their differences, if necessary agree to dis-agree and accept the decision of the electoral board with grace and elegance. Further, all parties of those countries become tolerant and patient because they clearly understand that tolerance is a signs of political maturity. All parties also understand that following the rule of law, the constitution of the land and all other legal and institutional framework in the country is critical in dealing with disputes. As a result, all parties at all time refrain from advocating violence and use of power, instead, opt for a civilized dialogue any time in order to pass their messages across and sometimes they agree to disagree.

 

Tolerance and patience are not sighs of weakness, tolerance and/or forgiveness is in fact a sigh of strength, self-confidence and a measurement of a civilized society. Therefore, finally, when the result of the election is declared, winners and losers accept the result and at the end of the day congratulate each other, shake hands and go back to start the nation’s business; end of story. However, if and when any candidate is not satisfied with the result of the election be it municipal, provincial or federal, then he or she must follow the legal channel of appeal to resolve the disputed case. This is the way things done in all advanced democracies such as those countries mentioned above. Civilized societies never go for the other violent and destructive ways and means; for, that will destroy their nation. This is the main difference between a civilized society and a non- civilized society and this is a very important lesson to draw during any election.

 

Here in Ethiopia, three national elections were held since the current government came to power. For a country with no history of a free, fair and democratic election, in fact with no history of a real election at all, it can be argued that the country has made a land mark achievement. Although like many developing democracies there have been few technical drawbacks from the previous elections, nonetheless and by and large the outcome of the last three national elections can be concluded as free and fair. This assumption has also been concluded by a well known independent international institution such as the renowned Carter Center. The renowned Carter Center concluded that the last Ethiopian election (The third national election) has been by and large free and fair. Also despite its biased unfair and prejudiced reaction towards the Ethiopian election, even the EU/EOM observes fully concluded with the assessment of the renowned Carter Center. The EU/EOM has to say the following regarding the May 15 third Ethiopian national Election: “The decision by the government of Ethiopia and EPRDF to launch this electoral process with international observation and unprecedented openness was a courageous and bold move.” 

 

Although the government can take credit of this land mark achievement, much of the credit should go to the maturity and “Sageness” or wisdom manifested by the Ethiopian public at large. Over the years, the Ethiopian people have understood the significance of their fundamental democratic right: The right to elect and to be elected. This fundamental right has been entrenched within the highest law of the land: articles 38 of the Ethiopian constitution. This fundamental democratic right was non-existent prior to the current government came to power. Ethiopians were denied of their basic and fundamental democratic right before the current government came to power. What an achievement it has been! Within a very short time the Ethiopian people have conducted three elections and the Ethiopian people have shown maturity and tolerance from time to time and it is hoped that during the upcoming forth national election the Ethiopian people will manifest greater wisdom, maturity and tolerance and the forth national election it is hoped will even be a better organized and a better implemented national election. For that, peace is fundamental to the implementation of a true, fair and democratic election; for, without peace nothing can be achieved.

 

Leadership from all parties can also positively contribute to a true, fair and democratic election because leadership plays a critical role during any election especially when parties face some confusion, when they become unstable, when they lack clarity and generally, when they are of less direction regarding national vision etc.. An effective, tested and committed leader of any party can make things work because an intelligent and tested leader will have the ability and the know how to make his team work efficiently and effectively. That leader is equipped with skill and experience, a mental strength even under precarious situations and a high level of communication skills a quality that makes people listen to him and this is vital and at times a key factor to be a leader and that makes a difference between and among leaders. An effective leader has a vision for the nation and is highly respected not only within his own party, his own nation but indeed internationally because of his track record representing not only his nation but at times his region as well. An effective leader also knows how to choose and motivate his team because a lousy team will discredit his effort. On the other hand, an effective team will help him pursue his vision and the vision of his party effectively. Leadership is therefore fundamental in any political party’s success or failure.

 

Within the Ethiopian context, the current leadership has over the years significantly contributed to the nation’s social economic and political success. For example, one has to simply wetness the progress made in the field of education (expansion of universities and colleges), health, transportation, construction, energy especially the construction of a state-of-art hydro-dams (Tekeze, Gelgel Gebe 1,2,3 and future Gelgel Gebe 4 and 5), roads, air-ports etc. These land mark achievements are accredited to this current government and the progress and achievement in variety of fields still goes on.  When a political party’s social, economic and political affairs continues to get momentum; then a party’s continuity becomes significance and as long as the leader of the party gets confidence of  his party and that of  the public at large, then the leader stays in the office.   In Canada for example as in many other Federal states the PM has no limited term in office. As long as the PM has the confidence of his party and that of the public at large, he stays in power. For example the late PM of Canada Pierre Elliot Trudeau of the Liberal Party stayed as PM of Canada for fifteen years and one hundred and sixty-four days, the Progressive conservative PM Brian Mulroney stayed for eight years and two hundred and eighty one days and the liberal PM Jean Chrétien stayed for ten years and thirty eight days. Generally, Prime Ministers of Canada do not have a fixed term of office; instead, they may stay in office as long as their government is supported by parliament under a system of responsible government. Generally, in Canada, both the number of terms served and the length of individual terms have varied considerably since Confederation. Historically, elections have been held every three to five years, although since 2006 a government act set fixed election days every four years unless parliament is dissolved earlier by the Governor General. Prime ministers can be re-elected to serve any number of consecutive mandates, and some have served up to six terms, while several others have served for less than one full term. There are also four prime ministers who served multiple non-consecutive terms in the office. The following list demonstrates the names, incumbency, years in power and number of mandates with few remarks.

 

THE FOLLWING IS A LIST OF CANADIAN PMs

 

Rank 

Prime Minister  

Incumbency  

Years in power

Number of Mandates  

Remarks  

     1

King William Lyon Mackenzie King (Liberal)

&0000000000000021.00000021 years, &0000000000000154.000000154 days

1921–1926,
1926–1930,
1935-1948

6 mandates

William Lyon Mackenzie King served for three full terms in majority governments; two full terms in minority governments supported by opposition parties; and one short term under a minority government cut short by the King-Byng Affair after which he was replaced by Arthur Meighen.

     2

Macdonald Sir John A. Macdonald(Conservative)

&0000000000000018.00000018 years, &0000000000000359.000000359 days 

1867–1873,
1878–1891

6 mandates

Sir John A. Macdonald served for four full terms in majority governments; one term in a majority government cut short by the Pacific Scandal, with Alexander Mackenzie taking over; and one term in a majority government cut short by his death, after which four others served out the end of his final term.

     3

Trudeau Pierre Trudeau (Liberal)

&0000000000000015.00000015 years, &0000000000000164.000000164 days

1968–1979,
1980–1984

4 mandates

Pierre Trudeau served for three full terms in majority governments and one short term in a minority government. The final months of his last term were served out by John Turner.

     4

Laurier Sir Wilfred Laurier (Liberal)

&0000000000000015.00000015 years, &0000000000000086.00000086 days

1896–1911

4 mandates

Sir Wilfrid Laurier served for four full terms in majority governments.

     5

Chrétien Jean Chrétien (Liberal)

&0000000000000010.00000010 years, &0000000000000038.00000038 days

1993–2003

3 mandates

Jean Chrétien served for three full terms in majority governments. The final year of his last term was served out by Paul Martin.

     6

Mulroney Brian Mulroney (Conservative

&0000000000000008.0000008 years, &0000000000000281.000000281 days

1984–1993

2 mandates

Brian Mulroney served for two full terms in majority governments. The final months of his last term were served out by Kim Campbell.

     7

Borden Sir Robert Borden (Conservative)

&0000000000000008.0000008 years, &0000000000000274.000000274 days

1911–1920

2 mandates

Sir Robert Borden served for two full terms in majority governments. The final months of his last term were served out by Arthur Meighen.

     8

St. Laurent Louis St. Laurent (Liberal)

&0000000000000008.0000008 years, &0000000000000218.000000218 days

1948–1957

2 mandates

Louis St. Laurent served out the end of William Lyon Mackenzie King's last term after the latter's retirement. He then served for two full terms in majority governments.

     9

Diefenbaker John Diefenbaker (Conservative)

&0000000000000005.0000005 years, &0000000000000305.000000305 days

1957–1963

3 mandates

John Diefenbaker served for one full term in a majority government and two short terms in minority governments.

     10

Bennett R. B. Bennett(Conservative)

&0000000000000005.0000005 years, &0000000000000077.00000077 days

1930–1935

1 mandate

R. B. Bennett served for one full term in a majority government.

     11

Pearson Lester B. Pearson (Liberal)

&0000000000000004.0000004 years, &0000000000000364.000000364 days

1963–1968

2 mandates

Lester B. Pearson served for two short terms in minority governments. The final months of his last term were served out by Pierre Trudeau.

     12

Mackenzie Alexander Mackenzie (Liberal)

&0000000000000004.0000004 years, &0000000000000336.000000336 days

1873–1878

1 mandate

Alexander Mackenzie took over from Sir John A. Macdonald's first block of terms following the Pacific Scandal. He then served for one full term in a majority government.

     13

Harper Stephen Harper

(Conservative)(incumbent)

&0000000000000003.0000003 years, &0000000000000203.000000203 days

2006–

2 mandates

Stephen Harper was elected to two minority governments and is the incumbent prime minister as of August 28, 2009.

     14

Martin Paul Martin (Liberal)

&0000000000000002.0000002 years, &0000000000000056.00000056 days

2003–2006

1 mandate

Paul Martin served out the end of Jean Chrétien's last term after the latter's retirement. He then served for one short term in a minority government.

     15

Thompson Sir John Thompson (Conservative)

&0000000000000002.0000002 years, &0000000000000007.0000007 days

1892–1894

0 mandates

Sir John Thompson was the second of four prime ministers to serve out the end of Sir John A. Macdonald's last term after Macdonald's death. He never won an election of his own.

     16

Meighen Arthur Meighen (Conservative)

&0000000000000001.0000001 year, &0000000000000260.000000260 days

1920–1921,
1926

0 mandates

Arthur Meighen served out the end of Sir Robert Borden's last term after the latter's retirement. He also briefly took over from William Lyon Mackenzie King's second block of terms following the King-Byng Affair. He never won an election of his own.

     17

Abbott Sir John Abbott (Conservative)

&0000000000000001.0000001 year, &0000000000000161.000000161 days

1891–1892

0 mandates

Sir John Abbott was the first of four prime ministers to serve out the end of Sir John A. Macdonald's last term after Macdonald's death. He never won an election of his own.

     18

Bowell Sir Mackenzie Bowell (Conservative)

&0000000000000001.0000001 year, &0000000000000128.000000128 days

1894–1896

0 mandates

Sir Mackenzie Bowell was the third of four prime ministers to serve out the end of Sir John A. Macdonald's last term after Macdonald's death. He never won an election of his own.

     19

Clark Joe Clark (Conservative)

&-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1.0000000 years, &0000000000000273.000000273 days

1979–1980

1 mandate

Joe Clark served one short term in a minority government.

     20

Campbell Kim Campbell (Conservative)

&-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1.0000000 years, &0000000000000132.000000132 days

1993

0 mandates

Kim Campbell served out the end of Brian Mulroney's last term after the latter's retirement. She never won an election of her own.

     21

Turner John Turner (Liberal)

&-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1.0000000 years, &0000000000000079.00000079 days

1984

0 mandates

John Turner served out the end of Pierre Trudeau's last term after the latter's retirement. He never won an election of his own. The only prime minister who never served as a Member of Parliament during any point of his tenure as prime minister.

     22

Tupper Sir Charles Tupper(Conservative)

&-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1.0000000 years, &0000000000000068.00000068 days

1896

0 mandates

Sir Charles Tupper was the fourth of four prime ministers to serve out the end of Sir John A. Macdonald's last term after Macdonald's death. He never won an election of his own.

 

Here, it is important to note the personal intention /willingness of a leader to stay in office or to leave; however, it is usually the intention of his party that takes precedence to his personal desire; therefore, the intention of the party vis-ŕ-vis the PM’s leadership and term of office has to always be respected. This is so because his leadership at times becomes critical to his party’s progress, strength and success and, most importantly, to the nation’s national interest. Therefore, it is his party and his party alone that has the power and the mandate to decide his leadership and definitely not media outlets, interest groups, opposition parties, disillusioned diasporas etc.

 

However, when a leader is somehow better equipped with knowledge, skill, experience or generally when a leader is strong and effective, many foreign media outlets, few opposition parties etc. often focus on his term of office rather than his accomplishment because they know deep down that his absence creates a vacuum and opens the door for them and their fellow “friends” to manipulate their agendas because they know that they may not possess the right staff to peacefully and democratically compete against a very strong and experienced leader. Therefore, they focus on a rather simple and trivial issue such as the one mentioned above. Also some governments mainly from some developed nations often do not like to see a very strong, firm intelligent leader within the developing nations in power because they can not maneuver and easily influence such a leader as they wish or use such a leader to pursue their personal or national agendas; so, they use among others foreign media outlets to raise questions such as the following: Mr. PM how long have you been in power? Mr. PM, don’t you think you have been in power for so long?  Can you tell us when you will decide to step down? etc. Here, it is important to note that they never raise such questions at their own back yards to those leaders who stayed in power for so long within the mentioned countries that exercise advanced democracies. Further, one may argue the intention and the validity of questions such as those mentioned. One may also note why these outsiders are raising these questions frequently to a leader who does not even represent them; so, are they raising those questions because they are really concerned about this nation’s welfare, or are they concerned about pursuing their own interest, the interest of few whom they can manipulate as they like? Or are their questions based on some hidden agendas that we may not easily comprehend? etc. I may also ask myself as to why I am raising this issue as well. Here, I am reminded of the ongoing debate by foreign media outlets whether the PM of Ethiopia should or should not stay in office for the next term or terms. If that debate was home grown by his people then I can understand the issue easily; however, the debate has almost exclusively been fashioned by western media outlets, few disillusioned Diasporas and very few members of the opposition parties. I have been here long enough to assess and evaluate for myself the majority of the public opinion towards the current PM of Ethiopia. Everyone knows that an overwhelming majority of his people and his party have solid and unwavering confidence on his ability, experience, skill and very high caliber intelligence vital to take this country forward and that is exactly what he has been doing thus far. The question in point here is when his people and the media at home are not questioning his leadership, why are these foreign media outlets too much concerned whether or not he should continue in office.

 

I am raising these issues because I like anyone else heard the PM of Ethiopia being asked those questions time and time again until the question drained him and exhausted even the Ethiopian public at large.  Ethiopians here and in the Diaspora know that this PM has given his whole life to serving this nation. One may argue that he doesn’t even have any life outside the public service to this nation and for that, he deserves our respect and admiration and he has earned just that. Further, we all know that he like any Ethiopian would like to have a cup of coffee or tea freely anywhere. Obviously, he is not lucky enough for that. However, his duty and responsibility happened to be different from all of us: to lead this nation and this people to a peaceful, stable and a better way of life and he is working day and night to do exactly that. As a result, his and his party’s vision and skilled leadership has made this nation to be peaceful, stable and respected not only regionally but indeed globally. Here, I might add that he made our nation stand tall and recognized and valued by the leadership he single handedly manifested for example during the  G8, G20 and now his vision and leadership made this nation to represent Africa on the Global Climate Forum to be held at Copenhagen. Although the rewards given to the PM in recognition to his excellent and exemplary leadership from distinguished academic as well as humanitarian institutions are many and varied, it is worth mentioning few examples in that regard. He has made his country and his people very proud in co-chairing the unique Africa-China summit with his Chinese counter part, awarded the highest academic achievement from different distinguished universities, represented his continent and single-handedly made the African agenda to be heard loud and clear in the international arena, stood solely against all odds with his dazzling and prolific debate and let our capital stay as Africa’s political capital and as home of the AU once and for all etc.. No one else has made such a landmark achievement so far. So I say why aren’t these foreign media outlets mentioning the progress made by him and his party and instead, why do they solely focus on his terms of office: a purpose that is not and can not be of their business.  I constantly ask myself why? And I am simply trying to answer exactly that question. Here, I am not failing to appreciate his and his family’s desire for a well deserved social life, privacy and a well deserved vacation that they never had. I also fully sympathize and share with perhaps other personal issues such as a simple family life, personal freedom etc that are very valid, but then, he and even his family has become beyond those personal issues in their day to day public service. Therefore, although the desire whether or not to stay or to step-down fully depends on him and his family and definitely not driven by external media outlets and the like, the final decision in that regard in my opinion lies on his party and his party alone.