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Medrek Support Group North America (MSGNA)

May 13, 2010

Ethiopian Election: Ballots or Bullets? Election Campaign or Terror Campaign?

In just ten days, the Ethiopian people will be heading to the polling stations to cast their votes and in all likelihood the majority will vote for candidates of the opposition party, Medrek or Forum. The ruling party, the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), chaired by the Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, is terrified and trembled than ever before in the face of Medrek, the voice of the Ethiopian people.  

It is for the first time in the last two decades that a cohesive and well-organized coalition of eight parties led by visionary and dedicated leaders that has really challenged and confronted the EPRDF. In the 2005 election, the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) or Kinijit was a relatively viable opposition but its non-democratic operations coupled by very loose organizational network and inside job saboteurs, made it an easy target to the more formidable EPRDF. The latter had already knew about the weaknesses of UDJ and despite the overwhelming success of Kinijit on the polls, especially in the urban areas, the ruling party, by claiming that it had won the rural areas, snatched the ballots by sheer force. Then UDJ supporters protested by staging demonstrations and they were dealt with government bullets and bayonets.

History may repeat itself in the May 23, 2010 election. The early warning signs of intimidation and preemptive strikes á la Meles Zenawi has already been unleashed, starting with the murder of Aregawi Gebreyohannes in Tigray and the recent cold blooded killings of Medrek supporters in the Oromia regional state. EPRDF’s police state is manifested in many ways, ranging from imprisonment of opposition leaders to harassment and killings of Medrek supporters.

In some instances, the EPRDF regime, in an attempt to hoodwink the Ethiopian people and to impress world public opinion, permits pre-election debates. In the majority of cases, however, true to its nature, the EPRDF masquerades in the electoral process and dispatches its cadres in the rural areas for the sole purpose of intimidating Medrek candidates and supporters. This sinister motive of the ruling party is best exemplified by the intimidating campaigns of Qudusan Nega and Wedi Ballema (two of the many Meles’ entourage) in Tigray regional state and the incessant negative campaigns against Siye Abraha by TPLF/EPRDF members who are equally shaken by the magnanimity of the Forum for Democratic Dialogue (Medrek).

Other EPRDF cadres have been in the business of recruiting new members through various means of political graft including granting land plots, promotion in offices, winning trade auctions, political appointments, and going to the best schools. This patronage, although second nature to the EPRDF since it seized power in 1991, has been upgraded with full force and intensity and in the last couple of years and has been implemented in all regional states from Tigray to the Amhara and Oromia regions and the peripheral states of Beni Sangul Gumuz, Afar and Somalia.

In most instances, the EPRDF cadres have not hesitated to use brute force against persons and their property. The message is clear when the loose EPRDF congeries broke Merara Guidina’s car: “We will harass you and kill your supporters!” Ultimately, the ballots would be rendered meaningless as long as government bullets kill innocent Medrek supporters. The EPRDF election campaign, far from being democratic and civil, is in fact a terror campaign.

If the Ethiopian constitution is implemented and fair and free elections are permitted, Medrek would definitely win. The Ethiopian bicameral parliament is composed of the House of Peoples Representatives (HPR) and the House of the Federation (HF) and the purpose of the election is to fill the seats in both Houses or elect delegates to both chambers. According to the Ethiopian [paper] constitution, “each nation, nationality, and people is represented by at least one member, with each nation or nationality represented by one additional representative per each one million of its population.” Members of HF, on the other hand, are elected by Regional Councils and there is not such thing as direct election. This perhaps is the Achilles Heel of the Constitution, but even the HPR elections would be subject to EPRDF’s emasculation.

The EPRDF’s hypocrisy has no limits. Now it has mounted cameras on the polling stations to monitor the election process, and it has also entered accord with the European Union (EU) so that the latter observes the Ethiopian election. The EU, on its part, says, “it will send a full-fledged observation team composed of 200 persons.” How is it possible that these 200 individuals are going to monitor the elections given the poor infrastructure and communication systems of Ethiopia and EPRDF’s malicious intrigue? Addis Ababa and the surrounding urban areas alone would consume the observers, and in the remote areas the EPRDF cadres will either steal or destroy ballots. The timid local people would not have control over their destiny; the brave ones would be eliminated by force; Medrek has no countervailing force to check government forces and the absentee observers would not be on the ground to gather first hand information and report eyewitness accounts.

The Ethiopian Election Board, a government constituted body, is not expected to oversee and conduct the election process impartially. But if all goes well, i.e. against all odds, the Medrek coalition would win because 1) the eight member parties have effectively fielded candidates all over Ethiopia, and 2) the Ethiopian people who have yearned for change for too long would cast their vote for Medrek. Arena, for instance, will contest in all 34 districts (seats) in Tigray and the Southern Peoples will run for all 125 seats in the Southern Peoples regional state. By the same token, the Oromo National Congress and the Oromo Federalist will try to capture most of the 181 seats in Oromia. The Somali Federalist will attempt to seize momentum in winning most of the 52 seats in its region. Andinet has fielded candidates all over Ethiopia, including for 9 seats in Tigray; 9 in Afar; 38 in the Amhara region; 127 in Oromia; 11 in Southern Peoples state; 13 in Somalia regional state; 2 in Harar; 2 in Dire Dawa; and for all 138 seats in Addis Ababa.

At least 32 million Ethiopians have registered to vote and some 2200 from all regions are contesting for parliamentary seats. However, except for the EPRDF candidates and their impersonating allies, all other candidates are subject to government terror campaigns. Some of the opposition supporters have already been shot and killed and the candidates may encounter deadly bullets as well. We shall wait and see till May 23 and we may either make a sad post-election analysis or celebrate the victory of Medrek and the Ethiopian people.

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