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Why Do Dictators Bother To Hold Fake Elections?

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The flawlessly organised election robbery that took place in Ethiopia on May 24 is now concluded with the unpopular ruling EPRDF party wining by a landslide. Over 37 million registered voters out of the 96 million people reportedly cast their ballots in the said parliamentary and regional election. Based on preliminary results that was released by the country’s electoral board, the highly unpopular ruling EPRDF and its affiliate parties so far won all of the 442 declared seats, leaving the opposition empty-handed.
Zehabesha election 2007 news
In what seems to be a rather stage-managed election process, the fate of the remaining 105 seats will be determined according to plan. After all, the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi will roll in his grave if the margin of victory for the incumbent party lower than that of the 2010, which was 99.6 percent. Ordinary Ethiopians rather embarrassed than surprised by the election results. They know the ruling EPRDF, which is mainly controlled by one minority ethnic group that make up only 6% of the population, is extremely unpopular, facing multiple armed rebellion. There is no way, unless otherwise rigged, the incumbent wins in a landslide all the time.
International election observers, like the European Union and the United States, which monitored the rigged 2005 and 2010 elections have declined to observe this time. The African Union Election Observation Mission (AUEOM) led by former Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba, is therefore, the only international monitor that observed the election. AUEOM members were only 59 in number comprised of 23 African countries. Practically and logistically, it was highly impossible for this tiny group of observers to monitor the more than 45,000 polling stations through out the country. At the end of the day, AUEOM managed to only visit 356 polling stations. The rest of the polling stations were left to observers from the ruling EPRDF party. It was like leaving the fox to guard the hen house.
The African Union Election Observation Mission finally gave its verdict on the overall voting process even though it only monitored less than 1% of the total polling stations in the country. It said the election was “calm, peaceful and credible”. However, the mission also said in the 21 percent of the 356 polling stations it visited, station officers violated rules by refusing to demonstrate empty ballot boxes before the official start of the elections. It also noted that a few voting centers had opened ahead of time and many ruling party allies openly urging voters to vote for them inside the polling stations. Moreover, the dark canvas ballot boxes in many stations were not sufficiently transparent to determine whether the boxes are stuffed or not. For that, the mission omitted the two critical adjectives, “free and fair,” out of its final assessment of the 2015 Ethiopian national election. In other words, it acknowledges that the election was not “Free” and “Fair” even by African standard.
The opposition rather dismissed the AU Observer mission’s assertion of “credible” claiming the body had failed to report on multiple violations in several constituencies. On the eve of the vote, security personnel had launched a “witch hunt” by arresting opposition observers stationed in most of the remote polling stations. Ballot boxes as well had been stolen from most of the opposition constituencies outside of the capital. Dr. Merara Gudina, deputy chairperson of the opposition Medrek coalition alleges the whole process was a farce. “In my constituency, we do not even know what happened to the over 80 percent of the ballot boxes right after the polls closed, ” he said. “It was an organised robbery.”
To the surprise of many, EPRDF and its affiliates even secured a landslide victory in Addis Ababa, an opposition stronghold, by winning all the 23 constituencies. Since the 2005 deadly election, the ruling party creates an unfair playing field for the opposition. The opposition have been hindered from campaigning through arrests, harassment, intimidation and unequal access to funding and media. That has left the country without any viable counter voice to the ruling party and resulted in highly controlled political and electoral participation.
A North Korea style 100% win is, therefore, what the ruling EPRDF expects this time. By doing so, it is sending the message that in Ethiopia, democracy is not about people’s rule but about ruling people. That message is meant to embarrass the highly criticized Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Wendy Sherman, who recently praised Ethiopia as a ‘democracy’.
The best explanation that we have observed is that, beginning at least in the 20th Century and arguably before then, the idea of consent of the governed has become inextricably tied to national legitimacy to such an extent that even dictators find themselves having to establish at least the illusion that their rule is supported by the people. Because of this, even dictators feel the need to hold “elections” in an effort to claim to the rest of the world that they have the same legitimacy as, say, the President of the United States or the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Consent of the governed, then, has replaced the Divine Right Of Kings as the determining factor when it comes to legitimacy. While the rest of the world rightly recognizes that these elections are fraudulent, the fact that dictators feel the need to hold elections implies that they recognize the fact that, to the world as a whole, only rulers who are elected by the people are truly legitimate.
For most Ethiopians, the chance for bringing change and democracy to the country through the ballot box is now a distant dream. While the final result is slated to be announced on June 22nd, Ethiopians have no option except to deal with it.