Makonnen Tesfaye; 3 February 2020
“All sovereignty power resides in the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia”; “the Constitution is an expression of their sovereignty”; and that “their sovereignty shall be expressed through their representatives elected in accordance with the Constitution and through their direct democratic participation”.
(Article 8, on the Sovereignty of the People, the Constitution of the EFDR)
“Ensure the establishment of a Government elected through free, fair and impartial elections held in accordance with Constitution”; and
“Enable citizens to exercise their constitutional democratic right to elect and be elected”
(Objectives of National Electoral Board of Ethiopia)
1. It is Voter Suppression, Stupid!
1.1The Abiy Ahmed Government, working hand in glove with Birtukan Mideksa,the former convicted putschist“Kinigit”leader and current Chairperson of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE), have perfected the art of voter suppression,even surpassing that of the racist Jim Crow laws in the US that deterred millions of African Americans from exercising their democratic rights through various administrative, legislative and brute physical/geographical schemes of voter suppression. Although the 1965 Voting Rights Act in the US sought to mitigate voter suppression, the phenomenon still operates where black people, ethnic minorities, students, elderly people and people with disabilities are deterred from exercising their fundamental right to cast their votes through racist measures that purge voter rolls, stringent ID requirement procedures and physical deterrents, such as restrictive place and time of voting. Indeed, the Abiy Government is a good student or follower of voter suppression schemes of the Jim Crow type, albeit in the context of developing countries.
1.2 The NEBE has so far proved to be neither neutral nor fair in respect of its constitutional remit or conduct; and cannot be relied upon to oversee a free, fair and credible General Election in Ethiopia. Having registered the “ruling”Prosperity Party contrary to legal requirements of the Amended Ethiopia’s Electoral Law, NO: 532/1999, the NEBE has further began to collude with the Government to rig the upcoming Election (not a foregone conclusion given that the Government may still postpone it!) through a plan of voter suppression, amongst others.
1.3The single most important expression of the fundamental rights of representative democracy is the ease, ability and freedom to cast a ballot in a free, fair and credible general election. The plan to hold the Ethiopian General Election in August 2020, in the middle of the rainy season, is tantamount to voter suppression of the Ethiopian peasantry that makes up 80% of the population who live in rural areas. This inevitably, materially and fundamentally interferes with people’s ability to cast vote fairly and freely. The blatantly obvious motive is as clear as daylight, given that Abiy’s Prosperity Party,an illegal and illegitimate Government, lacks social and electoral bases in the Ethiopian country side it has set out to supress voters in rural areas.
1.4 Not only is August in the middle of a rainy season with extensive flooding where torrential rain causes rivers to burst their banks making travelling in rural areas extremely difficult and dangerous, butit is also the time when farmers are busy with tending their lands and engaging in existential agricultural activities. The countryside and the vast remote areas in Ethiopia have extremely poor transport and communication infrastructure making travelling extremely difficult, much more so during the rainy season. Given the vast expanse of the countryside, the distance between villages and polling stations are long, often requiring long distance travels crossing muddy landscapes, rivers, ravines, hills and mountains. This brazen act of voter suppression defies any logic, or rationale except for what it is–an anti-democratic act of voter suppression.
2. The Government’s Stratagem of Rigging the General Election
The Government’s stratagem of rigging the upcoming General Election is further elaborated through a number of schemes, and includes the following ploys.
2.1 The Military Command Posts as Means of Rigging the General Election
The illegal State of Emergency (dressed up as Military Command Posts not approved by Parliament as per Article 93 of the Constitution of the FDRE) currently operating in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR) is designed not only to stifle the democratic and constitutional demands by nationalities for Regional Statehoods in the Region but also to supress free and fair elections in favour of the illegal Government of the Prosperity Party led by the PM. Similarly, the State of Emergencies in Western Oromia (Wallaggaa in particular), Guji and Borona in Southern Oromia are deliberately and principally aimed at supressing the democratic rights of citizens in those areas and also at curtailing Oromo nationalists’ electoral activities. Through the Military Command Posts the Government would have total and exclusive control of all electoral districts and polling stations by the military and allied civilians thereby enabling and facilitating electoral frauds.
2.2 Generalised Repression of Nationalists and the Opposition,and the Breakdown of the Rule-of-Law
The ongoing repression through mass arrests, imprisonments and killings of nationalists and citizens in Benishangul-Gumuz, the SNNPR and Western and Southern Oromia are testimonies to the Government’s determination to steal the General Election by hook or by crook. As we write,thousands of Benishangul-Gumuz, Kambata, Wolaytta and Oromo nationalists and citizens are being killed and imprisoned with the sole purpose of laying the ground for voter suppression by creating uneven playing fields in the upcoming General Election. A case in point is the illegal pressure (e.g. harassment, the cutting of the Internet and telecommunication) being applied by the Government against Benishangul-Gumuz federalist parties and the Oromo federalist nationalists’ front that includes the Oromo Liberation Front, the Oromo Federalist Congress and the Oromo Nationalist Unity Party. The cynical use of the breakdown of the rule-of-law is designed to facilitate meddling by the military in the electoral process and to enable the stealing of the Election.
2.3 Controlling and Employing the Coercive State Apparatus and Monopolising the Media
The Government is using the full power of incumbency to control and employ the coercive state apparatus and it’s near monopoly of the mass media to supress the oppositions and to provide unfair electoral advantage to the illegal “ruling” party, the Prosperity Party. The problem of holding a free, fair and credible election is further compromised given the total subversion of the Judiciary by the Government, which means there is very limited scope for holding the government, or the NEBE to account in the events of electoral malpractice or fraud.
2.4 Colluding with Foreign Firms to Rig the Election
Employing a Dubai-based firm without due process, check and balance, or scrutiny - a firm with dubious reputation and history of colluding with election rigging in a number of African presidential and parliamentary elections - to print ballot papers for the upcoming General Election further erodes the integrity of the electoral process and increases the risks of rigging (e.g. the printing of excessive ballot papers for ballot stuffing, compromising the packaging and transportation of ballot papers and all the tricks of electoral fraud).Furthermore, there is the pertinent issue of the Abiy Government being a crony of the GCC states, in particular Dubai (which lacks democratic tradition or commitment) that have vested interest in Abiy’s government winning the Election.The embryonic link between the Dubai-based firm and the Government of Dubai on the one hand and their vested interest in the Abiy Government on the other, point to the likelihood and intention of the Government and its foreign supporters to rig the Election in his favour. Indeed and coming from the horse’s own mouth (according to leaked minutes of the PM’s meeting with a business group in Addis Ababa, which was widelyand credibly reported in the mass media, and not denied by the Government!), he was quoted as saying that he was determined to win the election even to the extent of massively rigging the election.
The Government has announced that it has invited the EU to send election observers. Going by previous experience, it is expected the EU would be ideologically and politically biased in favour of the Government this time round. It is worth recalling the negative role of EU observers in past Ethiopian elections, such as the likes of Ana Gomes, who will now change roles by being poachers turned game keepers for the Government. Further credence is given to this conclusion by the most recent comment made by the EU Ambassador that the Abiy Government is subservient to EU and US interests and policies. It is also interesting to note why the Government has not sought election observers from Africa, or its lack of interest or commitment in mobilising neutral observers from the country.
3. What is Next and to be Done?
3.1 First and for most, democratic federalists and citizens must ensure (be vigilant!) that the General Election is held as per the Constitution and schedule (definitely not during the rainy season!), since the Government could still postpone the election given the growing electoral bases and the inherent/natural majority of the nationalist opposition parties. Given a free and fair election the opposition parties are clearly positioned to win landslide victories in Oromia, the SNNPR, Tigray, at least half of Addis Ababa, and in parts of the Afar, Somali and Benishangul-Gumuz Regions. It is even possible the Prosperity Party would not win overwhelmingly in the Amhara Region, given the current sentiment and trend against the Party in the Region, in particular following the kidnapping of students from the Region and the shambolic response and PR disaster of the Federal and Amhara Regional Governments. Hence, the electoral maths is very clear that Abiy’s Prosperity Party cannot win the Election except by fraudulent means and through massive electoral rigging. Moreover, it will definitely seek to do so by employing all the means in its power.Therefore, the single most important task of democratic and federalist forces is to ensure that this does not happen through concerted efforts and countervailing measures and strategies.
3.2 The opposition parties must demand the immediate lifting of all the Military Command Posts as well as the end of the repression of opposition parties and personnel through peaceful and legal means, including unified solidarity, demonstrations and civil disobedience as necessary.
3.3 Given the Government’s stratagem of electoral rigging, it is crucially important that the opposition parties must pay due attention to minutia details of the electoral mechanism bybeing vigilant and increasing their local presence and by building their capacity to monitor and scrutinise the electoral processes at Kebele, Wereda, Zonal, Regional and Federal levels.
3.4 The opposition parties must continue to struggle and force the NEBE to be fair and neutral through legal and political means, including by closely following and scrutinising the election modalities, processes, schedules and arrangements.
3.5 The opposition parties must think strategically (e.g. through federalist alliances) and act effectively at local and regional level with a view to maximising their electoral votes that would guarantee them the formation of democratic federalist governments nationally and regionally. The balance of forces in the country clearly favour the democratic federalist camp, but they are facing a determined Government which is set out to steal the Election by hook or by crook by employing the full might of the state and the resources of its foreign masters.
3.6 Given the critical importance of the upcoming General Election (equal in significance to 1974 and 1991) to the future viability of the Ethiopian State and the safeguarding of self-determination and federalism, it is vitally important for democratic federalists to win the election by working out the ins and outs of the electoral processes and mechanisms; by pooling together their common resources;by smart deployment of their electoral personnel; by unifying and synergising their electoral manifestos and political messagesand by recognising, above all, that united they would stand, divided they would fall.