June 25, 2015
By : Temesgen Zewdie
Former Member of Parliament (2005-2010)
National Council Member of the now defunct UDJ
Another election has come and gone. The Ruling party has improved its sham election record from a 99.6% in 2010, to a 100% win in 2015. The Political Opposition on the other hand has fast regressed from 174 seats in 2005; to just one, yes, just one seat in 2010, to a zero, yes zero seats in 2015.
In democratic countries, polling institutions and political pundits go to a great length to predict the outcome of an election by taking polls as to who would win, and by what percentage points; not necessary in Ethiopia. The Ruling party, by using its cadres and administrative units under its total control, is guaranteed to secure a majority seat by whatever means necessary. The means of achieving victory often includes harassment, intimidation, imprisonment of journalists, candidates, human rights advocates, opposition supporters, including extra-judiciary killings.
The few genuine Opposition parties (not including the over 70 imposters), that are a serious challenge to the ruling party are either shut down before the election (the case of UDJ for example), or are maligned before and during the election, with intentions of denying them credibility in the eyes of the voting public. In Ethiopia, the public media is used as a tool to demonize the few genuine opposition parties that have a chance to seriously challenge the ruling party in the polls; on the other hand, those parties that operate under the cover of an opposition receive all the perks and exposures on public media, while the genuine political opposition is harassed and intimidated by the security forces, and endlessly criticized by the public media. This was exactly what happened in the 2015 election. Individuals’ posturing under the pretext of an opposition party leader are given exposure on public television and radio, heaping praise on the ruling party for allowing them unhindered political space and access to public media, members and candidates of the genuine opposition are harassed by the security forces to disable them from reaching their grassroots supporters. The voters are told 24/7 through the media which is controlled by EPRDF, that the genuine opposition is anti-development and anti-peace, and that voting for the ruling party is voting for peace, and development; that if the opposition is elected there will be chaos and instability; also alleging that the opposition is conspiring with hostile neighboring Eritrea to destabilize the Country; are few of the many frequent flagrant accusations fabricated by the Ruling party television news to negatively sway the voting publics opinion. One clear call that has been repeated ceaselessly on EPRDF controlled television is the idea of peace, development and stability, being jeopardized if the opposition is elected. The above allegations are used as an opening statement in the evening television news cast for the duration of the election campaign. (I was there from the beginning to the end of the 2015 so called election). The opposition has no chance to disprove the charges since the public media is totally closed to the genuine opposition. The few private presses who are not aligned with the ruling party are intimidated to print information that does not show the ruling party in good light or they will be shut down and thrown to prison with bogus charges.
One of the few political parties which had a reasonable chance to challenge the ruling party at the polls was Unity for Democracy and Justice Party (Udjp). As most Ethiopians realize, the party has been prominent in the affairs of Ethiopian politics since it was formed in June of 2008. UDJ has participated in the 2010 National election, overcoming the heavy handed interference of the ruling party in the election process, and yet showing a significate support in the polls. In the 2015 Election, UDJ had planned to field 450 candidates for the Federal Parliament, and 1200 candidates for the regional councils. The party had the material, and human resources to facilitate the election. The ruling party fearing the distinct advantage UDJ could bring to bear on the 2015 election both in material and capable human resources decided to ‘pull the plug’ just weeks before the official campaign begun; transferring the legal administration of the party to an imposter under the pretext of internal acrimony within the party. All this is done under the direction of the Election Board of Ethiopia, in complicity with the city police and the security forces. No complaint was filed with the courts, nor any order executed by the court to shut the office down. It was all done by an administrative order of the National Election Board which serves as the right hand of the ruling party in ensuring the continuation of their success in the polls. If there is a government that operates under total impunity to muscle its way through unhindered by the law of the land, and International norms; the ruling party would stand out even among African dictators. Those of us who had personal property at the office of UDJ during the sudden closure by the security forces were told that we will not be allowed to remove them; including our personal vehicles without submitting to a search. When asked if the police had a court order to search the private property of individuals, the security officer at the scene was quick to point out that ‘none was needed’. Over five years of preparation to participate in the national election came to an abrupt end by the order of the national election board. Confirming to all that followed the drama, that Ethiopia is governed by the security and military forces, not by the rule of law as we are led to believe. As the saying, ‘insult to injury’ happened when we decided to go to court seeking justice for the illegal closure of our office. The judge after adjudicating the case for over two months between the now defunct UDJ and the National Election Board ruled that we did not have the legal personality to file the charges. That is how the legal system works when you are the Political opposition in Ethiopia. Your legal identity can be snatched away not by a court order, but by an administrative fiat from none other than the Election Board of Ethiopia, with the collaboration of the security forces; and when you protest the illegality of the action to the legal system, the court rules you have no right to file the complaint in the first place; proving that Ethiopia is ruled by a military power of an ethnic group than constitutionally promulgated laws of the Country. The short journey of UDJ may have ended unceremoniously, without realizing our lofty goals of seeing a democratic Ethiopia clean from ethnic identity; but our peaceful struggle for democracy, justice, and respect for human rights is just beginning.
The recent statement by Mr. Obama that Ethiopia has a democratically elected government is not only profane to most Ethiopians, especially to the young men and women who sacrificed their lives in their quest for Democracy in Ethiopia; it also strikes a deep wound in the souls of men and women still dying and languishing in filthy prison cells of the ruling party for their audacity to challenge the lack of democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights in Ethiopia.