One Year ahead of the ballots, debates on a timeline

Prime Minister Abiy recently announced in a press conference that election 2020 in Ethiopia will be held according to schedule, adding that whether the elections would be held or not is not something that will be decided by the public. He also said that the ruling EPRDF is preparing seriously to win the ballots. By reaffirming his government’s intention to hold the planned elections , the PM has tried to put an end to earlier speculations whether the ballots would take place as planned.

It was also disclosed earlier last week that the local elections and election for the Dire Dawa and Addis Ababa city administrative councils were postponed and scheduled to take place together with the national election. This was disclosed by parliament in an emergency session of parliament that was called back from recess to hold an extraordinary meeting. It is to be recalled that local elections were postponed twice in the past but 2020 appears be a definitive deadline.

There is political logic in postponing the local and city council elections whose officials were elected not in a democratic manner by popular vote but were appointed by the ruling party. The whole process was not a truly democratic one. Ethiopia is definitely breaking from past practices that allowed the ruling party, which was not itself elected in a genuinely democratic process, to appoint its officials to the various local administrative bodies including the two city councils.

Thus, it would obviously be a contradiction or a paradox to hold the local elections now and a democratic general election in May 2020. According to this decision, both the local elections and the general election will be democratic inclusive, fair, plausible and impartial in accordance with the universally agreed criteria of democratic electioneering.

What makes the decision to postpone the local and city council elections logical is the fact that the initiative came not from parliament but from the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) that has the constitutional mandate to organize the ballots in both cases. Contrary to past practices, the decision to change the timing of the elections did not come from directly the council of Ministers or from the Prime Minister.

It comes from NEBE, a body whose appointment and mandate was de facto approved both by the ruling party and the opposition coalition. The fact that the reformist administration might have acquiesced the decision to reschedule the timing of the elections may not be ruled out. It is too obvious that the nation is not ready now to hold the local elections because of political unrest in some parts of the country.

On the issue of elections, opinions are divided into two big camps, between the naysayers or doubters and the optimists. The former are saying that election 2020 cannot be held because of security fears and/or because the situation is not conducive to hold a free and fair election. The naysayers are right to be concerned with security issues.

True, sporadic unrest across the nation are threatening the organization, planning and implementation of elections. The postponing of the national census and the local elections are two cases in point. True, political transition in Ethiopia has become complicated. For that matter, no democratic transition has been easy sailing. The hope is that the situation might improve a year or so from now if not the timeline would be changed once again until a conducive situation would emerge.

The controversial issue now is while opposition parties are generally toying with the idea of postponing the elections, the ruling party is subscribing to the view that Election 2020 will be held according to the timeline of May 2020. According to the statement by PM Abiy delivered during a press conference last Tuesday, the executive committee of the EPRDF had recently held a meeting to uphold the May 2020 deadline for holding the elections.

He was quoted by media sources as saying that his party has put in place the biggest budget for a general election and reformed the NEBE and the electoral law so that Election 2020 will go ahead smoothly. PM Abiy also made it clear that the final decision whether or not the elections will be held according to schedule, will be made through discussions and consensus by all the stakeholders and not by one side or another. Voters may also be consulted and public opinion may be taken into consideration in this vitally important process that requires all sides to agree on the final date.

For now, all parties have at least agreed that Election 2020 will not be a replay of 2005 or 2015, both of which were rigged, tragic or farcical. The difference between 2005 and 2015 is that the former was not only rigged but also claimed the lives of hundreds of innocent citizens who had paid dearly for taking part in an election that the ruling party vowed to make peaceful. Election 2015 on the other hand has passed as a comedy because the ruling party unilaterally claimed that it has won all the 547 parliamentary seats. History has never witnessed a democratic election in which a hundred per cent win was registered by a party.

The other vital lesson the electoral contenders have learned is the formation of a neutral, fair and apolitical election board that cannot be manipulated by this or that interest group as it used to be in the past elections.

The neutrality of the election board is now guaranteed because it is headed by a former dissident and human rights activist and has earned the confidence of almost all the players despite the emergence of some grievances lately as the NEBE is accused of “duping” the opposition parties by ignoring their recommendations to make the guidelines of the forthcoming election fair and free.

In this time of fast changing and unpredictable events, it would be fair to expect the security situation to improve in the coming year. As political pundits would say, ‘politics is the art of the possible’. A year is enough to do what is possible and realistic to make Election 2020 a success.

If there is another lesson all political parties need to learn from past practices, it is the fact that political cynicism, mutual accusations, overt or covert plots to sidetrack the democratic process or foment instability in order to create an atmosphere of fear and uncertainties in the minds of the public need to be abandoned for good.

These tactics have been tried and failed in the past. They are likely to fail now that the people of Ethiopia are determined to get the government they deserve and not be hoodwinked by this group or that as it was the case in the past. No winner would emerge victorious from political machinations. The times have changed. All the stakeholders are now in the same boat and it is up to them to decide to sink or sail together.

The people are watching the process with more maturity and more patience. Opposition groups are expected to join the process with constructive alternatives and not lose their precious time in fruitless political dithering. They need to organize and educate their constituencies for the big day. It is now or never. To put it in a Shakespearean context, to be or not to be, this is the big question.

The Ethiopian Herald Sunday Edition 11 August 2019


Recommended For You

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *