With two days to go before Ethiopia’s much-anticipated general elections due to be held on June 21, the political parties running in tomorrow’s to assume state power owe the source from which this authority emanates—the public— the duty to respect its will by contributing their share to the peaceful and democratic conduct of the elections. If the elections are to live up to international standards and do the country proud, both the ruling Prosperity Party and rival parties must commit themselves to submit to the decision of the electorate.
Voting is the foundational concept underpinning the structures of a representative democracy. It’s a fundamental—the most fundamental—democratic right enjoyed by people living in genuine democracies. When a group of citizens collectively elects its representatives, it validates the notion that they govern themselves by free choice. An individual’s right to vote ties that person to the social order of his nation state, even if that person chooses not to exercise that right. Voting represents the beginning; everything else in a democracy flows from the right to vote. It is one of the few opportunities for the majority of citizens to weigh in and express one’s preference on the direction of government, thereby recognizing the legitimacy of the government through participation in the process.
All the actors involved in the electoral process need to refrain from unlawful acts which hinder the free expression of the consent of voters. Peaceful, democratic and credible elections are fundamental necessities that Ethiopia and its people cannot do without in the fulfillment of their aspiration for true democracy. Though the path Ethiopians have come this far has undoubtedly been fraught with difficulties, there is no viable option other than the peaceful pursuit of one’s political objectives if the nation’s very survival is to be guaranteed. The alternative only perpetuates the instability, poverty and backwardness that they are endeavoring to extricate themselves from. Hence, it is incumbent upon each and every Ethiopian to do whatever to nurture our fledgling democracy.
Although the aim of all of political parties contesting the elections is to assume the reins of power, they would well to understand that the electorate is the final arbiter which determines their fate. It’s when any and all election-related matters are handled peacefully and democratically that the essence of the principle that sovereign power ultimately resides in the people can be given effect to. If political parties in particular do not live up to their responsibility to enable the people to choose their representatives freely and view elections just as vehicles to propel themselves to power, the interest of the country and the public is bound to be imperiled.
The run up to the elections has been marked by ups and downs. While opposition parties have time and again stated that they are participating in the elections in the backdrop of a challenging political environment, the Prosperity Party has vowed that the elections will be flawless. Both have been campaigning on platforms they believe promote the interests of the public. But now it’s time they give the stage to voters so that they may exercise freely their right to elect the candidate of their choice. If the elections are to be generally considered as having been free, fair and credible, it is imperative that all political parties respect the public and accept graciously the decision it hands down.
Aside from political parties such other stakeholders as election executives, the representatives of candidates and voters, election observers, law enforcement organs and the judiciary as well as the media also have the obligation to ensure that the elections are an unqualified success. They have to provide the support sought by contesting parties and candidates insofar as it is within the bounds of the law.
Controversies inevitably arise in Ethiopia whenever elections come around. Needless to say, it should not come as a surprise to see differences in political objectives or over the whole election process. The important thing is to manage the differences in a democratic and civilized manner. Anyone who feels aggrieved can and should turn to the appropriate administrative or judicial organ empowered by the election law to obtain a solution. Refusing to make use of these mechanisms and resorting instead to violence and inciting the public to get one’s way is essentially undemocratic. This calls for the entities responsible for keeping law and order to do their jobs properly for failure to so may well elicit the outbreak of violence at the hand of elements bent on discrediting the elections.
Though most elections are not closely decided, that does not mean that one’s vote does not matter. The very act of voting is a form of civic responsibility and engagement. In truly democratic societies it is a generally held creed that the government’s legitimacy is based on the consent of the governed. If only around half of eligible voters chose to vote, it is difficult to claim that any elected official truly represents the will of the people or has a clear mandate to carry out policies. If citizens do not vote, they relinquish their right to a representative government. A democratic government draws it legitimacy from the citizens who elect it, and this legitimacy is threatened when few citizens exercise their democratic right to vote. It is therefore incumbent on the government and the public at large to identify the obstacles to voting and to find ways to make it more efficient and accessible with a view to ensure that Ethiopians taste the fruits of democracy. The elections are not just about who wins them; it’s about the integrity of our democracy. It’s about making sure we’re all heard. By coming together as voters, we will deliver a democracy where everyone counts. No exceptions!