Ethiopia: Follow the peaceful, lawful path only!

Pro-government rally in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Pro-government rally in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Editorial, Reporter | Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Last Sunday, the fourth national and regional elections were held across Ethiopia. More than 90 percent of the 32 million peoples who registered to vote cast their ballots. The overall voting process was peaceful.

This was not attested to by the ruling party or the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) alone; the thirty or so journalists we deployed to various part of the country on election day also observed that the elections were peaceful. Though there may have been minor problems here and there the Election Observation Mission of the European Union on Tuesday said in its preliminary report that the diminished political space in Ethiopia meant that there was not a level playing field for the elections. However, as the mission’s final report will not be released for another two months, it would be appropriate to focus on the here and now.

If there is general consensus on the voting process, what about the results?

Vote counting was concluded in accordance with the time table set. The provisional results announced by NEBE show that the ruling EPRDF has won more seats than expected, leaving opposition parties with just one parliamentary seat and no seat in regional councils.

Opposition parties, however, allege that these results are not correct and that the elections were stolen. They also compain that their candidates were harassed and that the observers they assigned were prevented from carrying out their tasks. Some have even described the elections as something akin to “children’s games”.

Regarding their next move, some opposition parties have said that they will lodge complaints in a peaceful and lawful manner. Others have called for a rerun of the elections.

Broadly speaking, the EPRDF seems to have won the elections. This is our observation too.

Although whether it won by the wide margin it is said to have secured is a secondary question, this too will be ascertained in the future.

If opposition parties have any grievance, they should submit it to the appropriate authorities’ court. After all, they have the right to do so. But this must be done peacefully and in compliance with the law.

We would like to reiterate what we have been saying prior to the elections: the actions of all stakeholders in the election process, be it before or after the elections, must be peaceful, democratic and in accordance with the law. We condemn any form of incitement to violence and rioting.

Therefore, opposition parties must promptly do what is expected of any party that loses an election.

First, they should assess the results announced calmly rather than reject them outright. They should ask themselves whether it is not possible that they indeed lost. Given that anyone running for an election can lose, it would be wrong to refuse stubbornly to accept the results.

If their grievance is that they could not have lost so heavily, they should identify the areas where they claim irregularities occured resulting in the election not being fair, free democratic and peaceful. Then they should submit a complaint that is substantiated with evidence.

In short, they should adopt the two-track approach of lodging a complaint properly where they have one and at the same time critically assess their shortcomings so that they emerge stronger.

In this regard, they need to ask themselves whether they were punished for their decision not to take up their parliamentary seats and take over the administration of Addis Ababa after the 2005 elections. If the EPRDF was “punished” in these elections, it would be fair to say that this time round it is the opposition who have been “punished”.

The Reporter had repeatedly said that the refusal of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) not to join parliament and take over the administration of Addis Ababa after the 2005 elections was wrong and warned that this could entail grave consequences for opposition parties in the next elections just as a similar decision by Ghanaian opposition parties cost them the next election. We are not trying to say here that we have been vindicated. We just want opposition parties to learn from their mistakes and become stronger.

We will analyze the full implications of the election results in detail when the final results are in. But the provisional results mean that we have to accept that the EPRDF has won the elections. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi addressed several important issues in a speech he gave on Tuesday at a victory rally. This speech is quite different from those he gave in the last then years in that it reached out to all sections of the society, including those who voted for opposition parties. We hope the commitments the premier made in. his speech will be delivered. He said that the EPRDF will not feel conceited on account of its victory. We agree with this for the victory is as much a result of the poor performance of opposition parties as the hard work the EPRDF put in He stretched out a hand to opposition parties to work together on issues of national importance because “the public also supported them and gave them its votes”. This too is laudable. Opposition parties should be consulted and allowed to participate in the affairs of the nation. He also pledged that the EPRDF would not exact revenge on opposition parties. There is no need to. Releasing the jailed Birtukan Mideksa is a praiseworthy initiative which demonstrates that the EPRDF is serious about this noble ideal. It also helps to put behind the past and open a new chapter of cooperation. But above all we are keen on Prime Minister Meles’s affirmation that the EPRDF is ready for new policies and strategies because the country needs to chart a new way forward. The EPRDF needs to look into why despite its overwhelming victory, one of its main candidates, the cabinet secretary, lost. The defeat sends it the message that voters indeed can mete out punishment.

Last week’s elections have another positive feature. Unlike in the 2005 elections, neither the victor not the losers resorted to fanning incitement to ethnic hatred or conflict and instead conducted themselves in manner that fosters solidarity. This is quite commendable.

We will make a final pronouncement on the elections after the announcement of the final result by NEBE and election observers release their final reports. But till then any and all complaints of irregularity should be lodged peacefully and in compliance with the procedures in place. The election board and the judiciary on their part must duly discharge their constitutionally mandated responsibilities.

All things said and done, one thing should be emphasized here.
Let’s always follow the peaceful and lawful path only!