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Ethiopia - The spiky road ahead

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The Network of Ethiopian Scholars (NES) - Scandinavian Chapter

Press Release No. 5
June 23, 2005

The Spiky Road Ahead: Problems Behind the Issue of Clearing up Voting
Irregularities

"?efforts have been deployed to investigate complaints filed by contesting parties with respect to vote counting." Meles Zenawi, (Walta Information Centre, June 14, 2005)

The current agreement between the opposition and the Meles regime to give
the National Election Board (NEB) a chance to clear up the charges of
vote-rigging and other irregularities is broadly welcome. NES wishes
nothing but for the creation of an environment that will facilitate a
satisfactory settlement of this election without leaving behind any
unsettled or ambiguous pretext that would embroil the nation’s first ever
golden opportunity created by the 25 million people that thronged to vote
into a dangerous trajectory by the sheer opportunism and arrogance of
Meles, Bereket & Co. Is it right to see separately the voting
irregularities from the process that generated them in the first place? Are
the complaints isolated incidents or do they reflect deeper reasons why
they were so widespread and pervasive especially in the rural areas where
there have been no independent observers to oversee the fair management of
the polling stations? How come in nearly all the areas where there were
such observers, the EPDRF lost, and in nearly all the rural areas where
there were no independent observers, EPDRF claims victory? But can the
complaints go away as Meles makes it so light in the above quote by a
simple act of recounting? We think the issues go beyond the simple act of
recounting and reveal the deeper mismanagement and attempt to derail the
election process by the Meles regime for the overriding selfish reason of
extending its tenure.

Meles’s claim that complaints will be resolved by vote -recounting does
not address the real challenge of fully restoring trust in the elections
that took place without proper observers in place. NES is left with more
queries than answers regarding the probable outcome of Meles’s strategy
for legitimising the election process. If clearing up the irregularities is
expected to deliver a standard of election in Ethiopia, where opposition
and government would reach broad consensus over the ultimate results, the
process of dealing with and responding to the numerous complaints would
demand thorough, meticulous, and inclusive investigations and transparent
procedures from start to finish, and all along with independent observers
monitoring it. This is necessary to assure all the parties that no side
ends up with a raw deal with a probable one-sided advantage to the Meles
group and disadvantage to the opposition. The ruling party’s proclivities
to reduce all complaints to vote-recounts and to hurry and pre-empt the
outcome by actions that appear to pre-judge and pre-determine the election
has the opposite effect? unfortunately, throw muck and dust in the
process altogether and upset the millions of Ethiopian citizens that came
out to restore Ethiopia’s renewal with democracy and ditch without end
the elite’s preferences and knee-jerk reactions to resort to the use of
arms and killing to retain power. If indeed the real objective is to
restore faith in the election process, the retention of a highly
compromised NEB to do it will compound the mistrust rather than clearing
it. The only possibility to move forward requires that highly independent
people with known integrity and legal knowledge should be mandated to
review the complaints. NEB has abused by its open partisan role the high
sense of the nation’s future, when it should have shown reverence and
respect for the greatness with which the people of Ethiopia turned out to
pioneer a peaceful transition to give short thrift to their hitherto
elite-detained killer political culture. It got the opportunity to mid-wife
t the change of the political mould of the country, and lost the plot by
playing the political tune of Meles & Co.

The NEB cannot be the judge of problems that is largely of its own making.
It is part of the problem and an independent commission must judge its
performance how much it has been a factor in complicating the much desired
and anticipated outcome of a lawfully run election. If this historical
opportunity were derailed by the selfishness of small-minded men, the
judgment of history on the NEB would be as severe as it would be on Meles,
Bereket & Co.

There is a huge stake in how this voting irregularity is conceptualised if
Ethiopia is to embark on a trajectory of a peaceful and lawful pattern of
power transition in the years to come, and if violence were not to be the
arbiter of such a transition, all along as it happened in the country’s
long history.

The first false premise is to say that investigation where the NEB sustains
147 complaints will not suffice to deliver the verdict that the election is
finally proved to be just and fair. How the NEB disqualified the majority
of the complaints so easily and perfunctorily is a mystery. That this
dismissal of the complaints, mind you, against the protest of the
opposition parties makes it even harder to take the NEB’s discarding of
the complaints so easily seriously. This adds to our perception of how hard
Meles and his NEB are tampering with the process rather than humbly engage
with the opposition to restore the credibility of the process that they
have contributed so much in undoing by their various tasteless riggings.

It is clear that all the 300 cases initially filed and the 147 cases that
the NEB filtered now cannot be so easily compressed to one and only one
remedy: by some magic wand, they alone or those they themselves largely
appoint are self-entitling and self-arrogating to do the investigation,
and, if they do that, they think all would go well. As far as we
understand from the kinds of complaints lodged, the issue is not restricted
only to minor irregularities such as, for example, vote counting, but also
it has to do with a number of grave problems related to intimidation, even
allegation of killing of opposition supporters, absence of independent
election observers, imprisoning opposition election observers, vote
rigging, stuffing ballot boxes with not properly registered voters,
different forms of harassment and different types of cheating. The
irregularity relates to deeper protests against voter degradation and
tampering with the election process by the mismanagement of the polling
stations and harassment of the voters. The National Election Board cannot
possibly dare try to hoodwink the world by pretending to clear all these
complaints by a simple act of hurried investigations of a radically reduced
list of cases. This reduction of the number of cases and simplification
of the complex issues does not only make NEB to commit cognitive violence
but also it makes it position itself as having been in the forefront in
committing a grave damage to the process further worsening the sores and
loss of credibility that it seems to have had so much a part in imparting
to the election process.

The Dubious Role of the National Election Board: Is it Part of the Problem
or Part of the Solution?
What makes us doubt that the process will deliver acceptable election
standards is the singular fact that all along from pre-election to post
election, the National Election Board has been charged as partisan not only
for the Government, but also for being against the opposition and domestic
civil society groups. It suffers a sore credibility of commitment for being
too aligned with Meles & Co. and not being able to live up to its challenge
of historical calling that is required by the sheer popular democratic
energy that came from the Ethiopian people. The paramount problem is
related to the fact that the National Election Board has not been
constituted as a neutral body. This partisan constitution of the NEB is the
sole responsibility of Meles and his group. The influence of NEB on the
ad-hoc Complaint Review Body also makes the latter to be handicapped by the
same problem of partiality and support to Meles’ side in the negotiations
related to the election. Meles wants to demonstrate that the election, on
the whole, has been won by his side and would like to trivialise the
charges of vote rigging from the opposition. He also wants to speed up
debunking the complaints knowing full well that all the members in the
various bodies of the election complaints are in favour of his party. It
is to be borne in mind that the National Election Board has been an arm of
Government and remains as such, regardless of the various sub-bodies
manufactured, until its mission confirming EPDRF in power for the next five
years is fulfilled.

It was an incredible spectacle to see that the discussion regarding
establishing the procedures for a complaint inquiry committee invariably
saw the EPDRF and the National Election Board operating and expressing one
and the same position on one side at all times and on all significant
issues, and the opposition on the other side. This anomaly would not have
come had Meles & Co. heeded the opposition demand that the National
Election Board should be broadly representative of the range of views in
the country in the first place. The opposition demand to do that was
rejected and now it came to haunt the nation that there is no easy exit
from the current impasse.

The National Election Board issued on 17 June the provisional results
before investigating the 300 complaints. On June 19,2005, it reduced the
complaints it has to investigate to only 147 cases, thereby dropping over
half of the complaints. As Meles has pronounced that most of the complaints
were ’ groundless’, the NEB has provided the proof and corroborated his
claim by adding number and statistics to it. This shows that both Meles and
the National Election Board are more in a hurry to crown EPDRF rather than
give the care, detail and attention to make the election process
legitimate, just and fair by looking deep into all the irregularities that
continue to cast a shadow on the whole election alienating the Ethiopian
people to doubt the process from all parts of the world.
The Irreparable Cost of Abusing the Election Process
The NEB and the EPDRF together are engaged in a dangerous manoeuvre to
outwit the opposition, re-impose the Meles’ regime by disregarding
opposition complaints as inconsequential, and reducing the complaints to a
simple matter of filtering through harried investigations that would not
invite trust.

Nevertheless, what will hit them in the face is ignoring the fact that any
short- term fix they do wallow in for a time invariably would bring
long-term obstacles to the country and finally expose them as historical
cripples that would leave the power that they so much love to cling to in
total infamy. The attempt to extend the Meles regime’s tenure of power,
as if it had popular backing from nearly all the regional states by making
the opposition a minority in all states and the federal Government appears
to send a dangerous signal to the people of Ethiopia who voted for true
change. The population that voted for the opposition will not buy easily
this strategy by Meles. They would like to see that the people they voted
for speak for them, raise their issues and govern or co-govern their
communities. The use of the NEB to bring about a situation where the
opposition would be jettisoned into a corner where they can only play to
the tune of EPDRF’s politics can only create a dangerous direction for
the country.

The NEB and the EPDRF must recognise that the regularisation of the
initially reported 300 cases of irregularities during the election and/or
the investigation of complaints is invariably tied up with the proud
national achievement of a lawful and peaceful political situation in the
country. It must be knocked into their heads that the investigation is
meaningless unless it achieves the higher purpose of re-injecting trust in
the process. The issue is one of re-building trust in the election process
after it has been so cruelly mangled and shattered by Meles who went to the
extraordinary extent of ordering military force to attack and kill unarmed
young people. Had the election been run properly in the first place with
the neutral election board, the involvement of independent observers and
other pre-legitimising actions, there was no need to produce any
irregularity let alone the massive irregularities with the enormity of
nearly three quarters of all the 547 seats. Ethiopian civil society who
prepared to field 3500 observers especially in the rural areas-as it
happens in hindsight in the areas where Meles& Co. boast of their pyrrhic
victories- were barred by the NEB from doing so. They challenged this in
court to only get the okay three days before the Ethiopian people
magnificently thronged in their millions to the polls. They only managed to
field 250 observers, a little less than the foreign observers. All together
independent observers from civil society and foreigners were no way near to
the task of yielding a fair and free process in all of the rural areas.

What makes the election to remain extraordinary and unique in our
nation’s history is that the people came out in droves to express their
voice. If it were not for the selfish power- craze disposition of Meles,
Bereket & Co, the people have demonstrated a historical imagination that
could have delivered a new history of peaceful change in the country. This
has now been misdirected by the coercive and corrosive myopia of the ruling
elites in the country. They want to force the people to submission. They
want to deny the people their expression of agency and steal the moment of
the people’s victory into something that makes Meles & Co. alone to be
false winners. Meles has to arrogate the power of agency to himself, and
seems to get high when he conspires and contrives to deny the people their
historical moment to give birth to a new pattern to the nation’s age-old
killer politics of despair by a politics that builds, engages and renews
hope, opportunity and historical possibility. It is richly gratifying that
the Ethiopian people came out to vote in their splendid millions, reminding
us the scale of turn out of the South African first multi-racial election
in 1994, a sign that the country has a great future to make it, to do away
with its many wounds and humiliations, and finally we can say with
confidence that left unimpeded the people have the collective wisdom to
make their own future.

Meles wants to force a nation to abort its greatest hour of pregnancy with
a new history, and he is spoiling for a fight with the peoples’ striving
to deliver this new history not knowing that by forcing the pregnancy what
will be born will not be a historical ontology of hope, but a return to
despair. The people want history to bear a new baby that they can nurture
as their democracy, as their liberation, and above all as their moment of
historical truth and rebirth.

What are the deeper reasons for the irregularities? Meles & Co. by their
own admission are persons who cannot afford to stick to principles. As far
as they are concerned they can be Albanian socialists at one time, liberal
or revolutionary democrats at another time. What this means is that it is
hard to believe that they have ever been, by the sheer force of conviction,
democrats. It is also hard to see any hard evidence of any belief they have
in democracy. The defining hallmark of their political identity is
remarkably consistent: autocrats that are prepared to kill citizens at a
first sign of their own self-fabricated and nervous agitation and fear. The
issue becomes whether these fellows will be entrusted to refrain or stop
from playing tricks of one sort or another behind the back of the people
and try to use their democratic façade to hide their lethal authoritarian
true identities.

When one observes the dispute over voting irregularities, one can see their
anti-democratic character clearly and manifestly. The democracy they like
to exhibit to the world is cosmetic and largely for show. Scratch them a
bit, the autocratic monster-their true character becomes exposed for all to
see. It is thus no big secret the root cause for the irregularities to take
place has to do largely because the ruling party was forced to be
democratic by its need to appear so to the donors who continue to bank roll
all its loans and grant-money from outside, and from the long popular
struggle at home for the creation of freedom and democracy that has been
going on for over a generation now. The irregularities did not drop from
the sky; they are a consequence of a structurally rigged and flawed
process. Meles did not permit civil society to participate as election
observers; even foreign observers that asked questions were expelled; news
agencies that reported and exposed election irregularities were not spared.
The regime used high handed tactics, controlled the election process,
interfered with the voting where observers were not available, chased some
observers to help it impede the voter and the voting. These practices were
rampant especially in the rural world of Ethiopia.

The regime did not see the supreme value of transparency and managing an
open and accountable election with clear and agreed procedures. Since it
had an inflated notion of its electoral rigging opportunities, it vastly
underestimated the opposition’s power to resist with determination. Now
it is caught red-handed with so many irregularities that it has itself been
forced to admit to. What is done cannot be undone. It has mangled badly the
election procedures and became the source for generating so many of the
complaints. No matter what its NEB does now, this election may not be
proved to be free, just and fair beyond reasonable doubt. Such a standard
would not be easy to achieve. The damage has been irretrievably done. Going
through investigation of a much reduced and contested number of complaints
will not clear the dangerous tampering and destabilisation of the process,
which seems to be beyond the authority of a compromised NEB to clear up.
The people who have expressed their voice will not be placated by an
investigation done by a rigging Meles & Co, who have appointed an equally
rigging NEB, and who knowingly oversaw a rigged election, and which it has
now shamelessly put itself in the forefront to carry out a rigged
investigation whilst still under complaint and protest from the opposition.

NES believes that the NEB’s casual dropping of the numerous complaints
already against the protest of the opposition parties shows contempt and
does not seem to be aware it is doing great disservice to the democratic
conquest that that the peoples’ march to the ballot box has so manifestly
demonstrated. Meles’ regime has suffered a crisis of perception as its
NEB has suffered from crises of election management. Even if there were an
investigation, after investigation by the NEB, it would not deliver the
standard of election that would inspire trust in the election process as
having been executed with tolerable flaws. That achievement is dependent on
the level of popular trust and the regime has lost that trust. The way the
NEB has gone about clearing up the irregularities seems to create more
spikes in the road of peaceful political transition. Far from attenuating
the problems, it seems to have deepened them.

What would bring back trust is not do harried investigations perhaps to
prefer doing a recount and close the matter, as if all the complaints can
be algorithmically compressible to it only, but agreeing to launch a
strategy that would create an inclusive governance system by taking the
expression of popular voice and votes in supporting the opposition into
account. Ignoring the voice of the people of Ethiopia will sour the
historical opportunity that is open as a new dawn to score a higher
civilisation turn in the country by forcing a situation that can
potentially degenerate into a historical peril of bloodshed and barbarism.
Any more exclusive power drive by Meles & Co. after nearly 15 years being
saddled in power to date, that is predicated on a wish to form a repressive
government system of the next five years on the basis of the arithmetic
counts of a profoundly flawed election in many parts of the country, where
opposition candidates have been harassed, beaten, and in some instances,
killed, where election monitors were put in police custody rather than do
their jobs across the country before polling day, would not be reasonable
or acceptable to the people of Ethiopia.

The international community must be forewarned/ forearmed not to expect any
fair dealing in these so-called completely rigged investigations or
recounts. We suspect that NEB may be inclined to bend or reduce the
investigations to a mere issue of vote counting. The international
community must watch and scrutinise all these potentially hazardous steps.
They must do all they can to assist the Ethiopian people to stop Meles and
his chief crony Bereket from planning further and implementing any of their
cruel designs that they have in store or they may still hatch. Meles & Co.
have already damaged the Ethiopian people by the numberless stratagems to
deny them their victory in creating a new history for their country. That
damage alone suffices to make them pack their belongings. Any more crime
Meles & Co. may commit when people inevitably protest must be seen as crime
against humanity and should put them in the world court of history and
judgment as defendants against Ethiopia’s just persecutions of the many
wrongs they did to our gentle nation. NES cannot accept any killing and we
call the international community to put maximum pressure for Meles & Co to
desist from such embarrassing and barbarian acts. We appeal to the
international community to be informed and forearmed in order to stop and
rebuff Meles from taking any of his usual unsavoury and cunning tricks.

It looks a foregone conclusion that the investigation by NEB will not lead
anywhere. Even if the investigations were to show one result or another,
how would one factor in or out the acts of violence and intimidation in the
way the election have been carried out in numerous parts of the rural
hinterland and the regions? The NEB is part of the problem and not the
solution in the larger good of the historical delivery of freedom and
democracy- key conditions for anchoring the complete transformation of the
country and the productive power of the mind of its people, harness the
productive power of its vast and yet untapped nature and the productive
power of physical matter and manufacture.

NES demands:

- That the NEB should be investigated by an independent legal panel of
experts for the many wrongs that surfaced in the election process including
its compromised neutrality
- To investigate independently why EPDRF had poor results where there are
independent observers, and where there were no such observers it claimed it
had good results
- That the voice and votes for the opposition must be recognised in
government to redress the injustice of the destabilised rigged election.
- To unconditionally rescind the state of emergency that has been imposed
to give Meles &co the license to misinform, harass and kill the unarmed
people.
- To condemn Meles for imposing measures to complicate governance in
areas where the opposition was proved beyond doubt that it has won.
- To condemn Meles himself as the chief architect of the state of
emergency that has contributed to change the political environment to kill
unarmed young people.
- To condemn their double freedom to spread malicious attacks against the
opposition on public media whilst denying, through threat of force and
imprisonment, the opposition to have the opportunity to present its case to
the public.
- To condemn their attempt to sell the state of emergency as necessary to
keep security and protect democracy when their intention and practice
belies this and they engage in harassment, terrorizing and intimidation of
the people.
- Calls on the international community to continue exerting maximum
pressure on Meles & co. and not to tolerate Meles & Co’s actions due to
their fabricated worries of instability.
- Calls on the international community to support democracy and the
people’s voice as the major foundation for enduring peace, stability and
security.
- Calls the international community to condemn the use of the ethnic
card by Meles and Co. in their attempt to scare the Tigray people by
cynically using them for narrow political ends. Condemn also their tactics
of misusing Rwanda type genocide in the Ethiopian context and
psychologically scaring and intimidating the Tigray people.
- Calls the internationally community to trust that the election has
shown that the Ethiopian people have great historical and humane sense and
wisdom and will never listen to ethnic entrepreneurs like Meles & Co to
turn on each other, much as the politicos wish to see that outcome for
reasons of their own power perpetuation.
- Calls on the international community to continue to show strong faith
that the Ethiopian people are ready to overcome together, many as one, one
as many, with their diversity and difference together, to make their future
free from all sorts of natural and man made disasters.

Concluding Remarks

The road map looks clear from Meles and his group’s perspective. The
majority seats in the state council have been confirmed even if
provisionally by NBE to them. Meles employed three strategies. First
feeling threatened by the landslide victories in the major cities including
Addis Ababa by the opposition, Meles chose to neutralise and pre-empt this
threat by state of emergency, trying to disorganise the opposition leaders
by dispersing and arresting them. The second strategy is to promote the
image of Meles & Co. as agents of democracy in Ethiopia by pushing all
opposition gains to minority parliamentary seats with no power to enact
legislative changes and absolutely no opportunity to share or join any
executive function. This strategy seems to emerge from the declaration of
provisional results, which give majorities to the ruling party in nearly
all the regions of Ethiopia, and Meles’s own expressed preference to
resolve the 300 complaints by a uniform method to do away with the
complaints.

Meles’s third strategy is to make the areas like Addis Ababa where the
opposition had land slide victories to be administratively ungovernable by
imposing new measures that will cripple the opposition from carrying out
service to the people. The main objective of Meles & Co is to create
contradiction between the opposition and the people. Their strategy is to
go for exclusive control of the country by disrupting governance in the
areas they lost. For example they are hurrying legislation with the
existing parliament to take over the transport service responsibilities of
Addis Ababa that used to be under the mandate of the city administration.

The state of emergency is used by the Government to silence and intimidate
the people from expressing their voice, while Meles & Co. freely help
themselves to the public media and daily harangue and harass the
opposition. The police and army roam around the country intimidation and
arresting opposition supporter and members throughout Ethiopia. They do not
even spare attempting assassination or even killing elected MPs. This
situation is centrally connected to the state of emergency under the direct
command of Meles himself. It tries to enforce security by suppressing the
people, and it is inappropriate and must not be tolerated.

We think that the reported huge irregularities, the strong showing by the
opposition, the need to respect the voice and voting of the people for the
opposition justify fully that the opposition should aim at nothing else but
play an active role in the governance and the future direction of the
country. The international community should assist in making a smooth
transition to a power sharing arrangement. There are only two options,
either a re-election once more, or a power sharing arrangement for a
government of national concord. We think the latter is a preferred option
to give possibility to the massive energy and spirit displayed so
wonderfully by the Ethiopian people. Together, let the nation rise to undo
all its humiliations, feed itself, organise itself and stop agonising and
fiddling with election irregularities where there is no chance of
regularising given the process was mangled from start to finish by Meles
and his NEB. Let new possibilities and new history dawn for Ethiopia and in
Ethiopia.

Professor Mammo Muchie, Chair of NES-Scandinavian Chapter
Berhanu G. Balcha, Vice- Chair of NES-Scandinavian Chapter
Tekola Worku, Secretary of NES-Scandinavian Chapter

Contact address:
- Fibigerstraede 2
- 9220- Aalborg East
- Denmark
- Tel. + 45 96 359 813 Or +45 96 358 331
- Fax + 45 98 153 298
- Cell:+45 3112 5507
- Email: mammo@ihis.aau.dk Or berhanu@ihis.aau.dk OR
tekola.worku@bromma.stockholm.se

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