Ethiopia Elections not to be Controversial, Says former US Envoy
By Peter Clottey
Ethiopia’s upcoming general elections will not be as dynamic or as controversial as the 2005 elections because the opposition does not have the same ability to embark on a rigorous campaign before the vote, says a former U.S envoy.
David Shinn, who was the U.S ambassador to Ethiopia from 1996-1999 said the contest in the Tigray region will test the popularity of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF).
“This election is going to be different than any in the past. It certainly is not going to be as dynamic or as controversial as the one in 2005 simply because the opposition does not have the same ability to carry out its campaign as it did in 2005. But, having said that I think it would be somewhat more interesting election than what you saw for example in 1995 or in 2000,” he said.
Both the ruling party and the opposition claimed victory in Ethiopia’s 2005 vote which was marred by violent street protests resulting in the loss of lives and properties.
Prime Minister Zenawi’s government said the 2005 post-election violence was a carefully calculated attempt to force a regime change in Ethiopia.
Opposition groups said this year’s vote will not be transparent after accusing the ruling party of undermining their campaigns through intimidation and harassment – a charge the ruling party dismisses as baseless.
Ambassador Shinn said the opposition erred by boycotting parliament following the 2005 election.
“I think that they made an enormous mistake by not taking their seats (in parliament). I grant them that it is not easy to function as part of the opposition in the current system in Ethiopia, but that is no excuse not to try. And, if your numbers are greater, that over time is going to give you more influence…to boycott is, I think, is the absolute worse decision you can make,” Shinn said.’
He further urged Ethiopians to fully participate in the general elections.
Meanwhile, analysts heavily tip the ruling Ethiopian Peoples' Democratic Front (EPRDF) to comfortably win the 23rd May general elections.
Tension mounts in Ethiopia ahead of polls
ADDIS ABABA (AFP) – Accusations of harassment and even of murder have led to escalating tensions in Ethiopia between the long-entrenched ruling party and the opposition, a month ahead of general elections.
The death last week in controversial circumstances of a politician from the Oromo ethnic group -- the largest of more than 80 in the Horn of Africa nation -- has started a row, with each side claiming his political loyalty.
According to Merara Gudina, vice-president of the opposition Forum for Democratic Dialogue (Medrek), when Binsa Daba died on April 16, he was attacked for his political stance by "four members of a (pro-government) local militia".
But Communications Minister Bereket Simon said that "Mr Binsa died of natural causes and was not even a member of the opposition," but instead of the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary and Democratic Front (EPRDF) led by outgoing Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
Bereket said that the opposition was using all possible means to discredit the elections scheduled on May 23, which will be the first national polls since the 2005 elections led to violence in which at least 200 people died.
The opposition has also claimed that the murder of a better-known political figure, Aregawi Guebreyohannes, in March in the northern Tigre region was a political killing, while the government says it came of a dispute.
The government wants to ensure that May's poll is not spoiled by fraud or the kind of violence that erupted in 2005, when opposition demonstrations were brutally put down by security forces. The opposition then wanted to denounce alleged fraud in the official outcome, after taking the best score of its history.
Ethiopia has 80 million inhabitants, of whom more than 30 million are due to vote to elect their members of parliament.
International observers say that Meles, 54, a former rebel leader in power since the EPRDF ousted the Marxist military regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991, has every chance of winning a new five-year mandate.
But the Medrek, a loose coalition of eight highly varied parties without a real leader, ceaselessly denounces the conditions in which the vote is being organised. Non-governmental organisations agree and Human Rights Watch has denounced "the narrowness of the political space."
Meles, satisfied with an economic policy he says has led to a growth rate of 10.1 percent and 3.9 percent of inflation, on April 13 reminded parliament of his determination to create conditions for "free, fair and transparent" elections.
But the president of Medrek, Beyene Petros, 60, says "there is a lack of consensus over who should manage these elections. (...) we have available information on the ground that the election officers are members of the EPRDF or its affiliates. How can you play and referee at the same time and expect fair play?"
Beyene also denounced the selection of the electoral board "by the ruling party in a non-transparent manner when it should have been based on merit. This whole process enables the elections to be open for vote rigging."
"You also have the issue of harassment that our candidates face," Beyene added. "Since the ruling controls almost every aspect of economic activity, opposition candidates or members are threatened from working, face demotion and being transferred to difficult places."
The National Electoral Bureau of Ethiopia, responsible for organising the poll, has devised with the government a code of conduct for international observers who will be sent by the European Union and the African Union.
The bureau is planning a similar code of conduct for local and foreign journalists covering the elections.
European Union to Send Monitors to Ethiopia Vote, Lawmaker Says
By Jason McLure
March 30 (Bloomberg) --
The European Union will send a team of observers to monitor Ethiopia’s May 23 national elections, amid complaints by opposition parties that the vote won’t be free and fair, a European lawmaker said.
Ana Maria Gomes, a Portuguese member of the European Parliament who led the EU’s monitoring mission to Ethiopia during elections in 2005, said Andris Piebalgs, the European Commissioner for Development, announced the decision to African and European parliamentarians meeting in Tenerife yesterday.
Ethiopia's elections: Forget about democracy
The chances of a fair vote in the coming election are fast receding
Mar 25th 2010 | NAIROBI |
From The Economist print edition
THE United States, the richest and most powerful nation on earth, is also the most generous donor to one of the poorest, Ethiopia. America says it gives $1 billion in aid every year to Africa’s second-most-populous country, which also happens to host the African Union’s headquarters.
Yet Barack Obama’s administration has barely stirred itself to protest against recent attempts by Ethiopia to jam programmes in Amharic, the country’s main language, beamed by the Voice of America, a respected state-funded broadcaster. Ethiopia’s prime minister, Meles Zenawi, brazenly says he will continue to jam the signal for as long as it incites what he calls hatred. He has compared the Amharic service to the hate speech spewing from Radio Mille Collines, which helped provoke Rwanda’s genocide in 1994. The State Department called the comment inflammatory but seems loth to make Mr Zenawi suffer for it.
One reason is that the Pentagon needs Ethiopia and its bare-knuckle intelligence service to help keep al-Qaeda fighters in neighbouring Somalia at bay. Many of Washington’s aid people argue that, though Mr Zenawi is no saint, he still offers the best chance of keeping Ethiopia together; even now, as one of the world’s least developed countries, it cannot feed itself.
Human-rights campaigners think the limpness of America and European Union countries, especially Britain, in the face of Mr Zenawi gives him a free rein to abuse his own people. This week’s report by Human Rights Watch, a New York-based lobby, claims that, after 20 years in power, Mr Zenawi’s ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front has “total control of local and district administrations to monitor and intimidate individuals at a household level.” With a general election due on May 23rd, opposition supporters, says the report, are often castigated as subversives by the government, denied the right to assembly, and harassed. The press has been “stifled”. Newspapers avoid writing about opposition parties or people the government says have terrorist links.
Furthermore, says Ben Rawlence, who wrote the report, “Meles is using aid to build a single-party state.” Foreign governments, he says, have colluded in eroding civil liberties and democracy by letting their aid be manipulated by Mr Zenawi. Because of his party’s stranglehold at village level, its members can decide on entitlements such as places for children in school and the distribution of food handouts. Peasants who back the opposition get less. Farmers complain they are denied fertiliser for the same reason.
The Ethiopian government has denounced the report as outrageous and ridiculous. Mr Zenawi says that groups such as Human Rights Watch interpret human rights too narrowly. The only way to guarantee Ethiopia a free future, he argues, is to keep it stable while it continues to develop. His political calculations are straightforward. He reckons, for instance, that reporting by the Voice of America does more harm inside the country than outside criticism of his censorship.
In any case, Mr Zenawi has signed up for a code of electoral conduct and invited foreign election observers in. He still has time to win over critics before the election, for instance by freeing an imprisoned opposition leader, Birtukan Mideksa, as a goodwill gesture.
Aid-giving governments, for their part, are unlikely to change their minds. Even after hundreds of protesters were shot dead by the police after the last elections in 2005, aid to Ethiopia was only repackaged in different forms, not suspended. Besides, foreign politicians have promised their own voters that they will dish out large amounts of aid and argue that at least Ethiopia is less corrupt than many other African countries. Mr Zenawi understands this well—and exploits it.
Ethiopia: Repression Rising Ahead of May Elections
Human Rights Watch
Government Intimidating Opposition Supporters, Media, Activists
March 24, 2010
The Ethiopian government is waging a coordinated and sustained attack on political opponents, journalists, and rights activists ahead of the May 2010 elections, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. On May 23, 2010, Ethiopians will vote in the first parliamentary elections in Ethiopia since 2005, when the post-election period was marred by controversy and bloodshed.
The 59-page report, "‘One Hundred Ways of Putting Pressure': Violations of Freedom of Expression and Association in Ethiopia," documents the myriad ways in which the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has systematically punished opposition supporters. Since the 2005 polls, the party has used its near-total control of local and district administrations to undermine opponents' livelihoods through withholding services such as agricultural inputs, micro-credit, and job opportunities. The report also documents how recently enacted laws severely restrict the activities of civil society and the media.
The ruling party and the state are becoming one, and the government is using the full weight of its power to eliminate opposition and intimidate people into silence.
Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch
"Expressing dissent is very dangerous in Ethiopia," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The ruling party and the state are becoming one, and the government is using the full weight of its power to eliminate opposition and intimidate people into silence."
Government repression has caused many civil society activists and journalists to flee the country in recent months. The most prominent independent newspaper was closed in December 2009 and the government jammed Voice of America radio broadcasts last month. Ethiopians are unable to speak freely, organize political activities, and challenge their government's policies - whether through peaceful protest, voting, or publishing their views - without fear of reprisal. In 2008, the government arbitrarily imprisoned opposition leader Birtukan Midekssa, president of the Unity for Democracy and Justice Party.
Ethiopia is heavily dependent on foreign assistance, which accounts for approximately one-third of all government expenditures. The country's principal foreign donors - the World Bank, United States, United Kingdom, and European Union - have been very timid in their criticisms of Ethiopia's deteriorating human rights situation, Human Rights Watch said.
For the report, Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 200 people during 15 weeks of research in Ethiopia, including farmers, teachers, civil servants, activists, opposition, and government officials, as well as foreign diplomats and aid officials in the capital, Addis Ababa, and in three other regions.
Since the April 2008 local elections in which the EPRDF won over 99.9 percent of the vote, the ruling party has consolidated its control over village and district administrations and ruled with an iron grip. In the districts visited by Human Rights Watch, residents told how every village was organized into cells and local government officials, and militia monitored households for signs of dissent. Local administrations withheld government services to punish those who criticized the government or did not support the ruling party.
Local government officials have considerable influence over the livelihoods of villagers: they are responsible for selecting and supervising participation in food-for-work programs, allocations of seeds and fertilizer, micro-credit loans, and for providing letters of reference for jobs, educational opportunities, and training. Opposition parties claim that their memberships have been decimated because people have no option but to join the ruling party to protect their jobs and feed their families.
The government has also put pressure on all state employees - and especially teachers - to join the ruling party, and selectively punished critical voices. It has used the draconian Charities and Societies Proclamation as well as the Anti-Terrorism law to intimidate civil society activists and journalists who have tried to report on state repression.
Human Rights Watch calls on the Ethiopian government to take urgent steps to improve the electoral environment by immediately releasing all political prisoners, including Birtukan. Human Rights Watch also calls on the government to publicly order all officials and EPRDF members to cease attacks and threats against members of the political opposition, civil society, and the media; and permit independent efforts, including by international electoral observers, to investigate and publicly report on abuses.
The European Union and the African Union are the only institutions considering sending international election observers to monitor the May elections. Restrictions in the Charities and Societies Proclamation make independent election monitoring by Ethiopian organizations practically impossible. Human Rights Watch called on all international observers to take into account the pre-election repression when assessing the freedom and fairness of the polls.
"Ethiopia's foreign backers should break their silence and condemn the climate of fear in Ethiopia," said Gagnon. "Donors should use their considerable financial leverage to press for an end to the harassment of the opposition and to oppressive laws on activists and the media."
Selected Accounts from the Report
"You have to understand that at the grassroots level, everything is organized according to the EPRDF ideology, everything is organized and controlled by cells; if you are opposition you are excluded [from village life]."
- Teacher, Amhara region
"I am a member of the EPRDF, but I do support the opposition party. Being a member does not mean anything. I am a member of EPRDF because I need relief assistance.... The list of receipts - the proof that I am paying my dues to the party - are required to get relief assistance. I am paying because I do not want to be suppressed or ignored."
- Ruling party member, Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' Region
"There is a significant element of self-censorship, there are many stories we cannot write, many things we cannot say. We are not told the red lines, we have to guess. Their interpretation of terrorism [in the anti-terrorism law] is so broad that it is dangerous for us. For example, if they label a particular political party a terrorist organization then we cannot write about them.... Newspapers are not allowed to do polling or predict anything before the National Electoral Board has announced it."
- Journalist, Addis Ababa
“One Hundred Ways of Putting Pressure”
Violations of Freedom of Expression and Association in Ethiopia
March 24, 2010
This 59-page report documents the myriad ways in which the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has systematically punished opposition supporters. Since the 2005 polls, the party has used its near-total control of local and district administrations to undermine opponents' livelihoods through withholding services such as agricultural inputs, micro-credit, and job opportunities. The report also documents how recently enacted laws severely restrict the activities of civil society and the media.
Read the report from Human Rights Watch Website