Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Learning from shortcomings of upcoming elections

As voting for around 20 percent of Ethiopia’s 547 constituencies where polls were not conducted during the sixth general elections held June 21 fast approaches, a different set of challenges, some similar to those that had prompted the postponement of the elections twice, have cropped up. Originally they were slated for August 2020. First, the COVID-19 pandemicforced the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) to reschedule them for June 5. The Board then postponed the elections a second time to June 21 following the extension of the deadline for voter registration and to get more time to address internal shortcomings.NEBE had initially deferred the elections for constituencies where they were not conducted on June 21 to September 6 due to two factors— insecurity in the case of some areasand logistical problems for the others. It’s these elections which were postponed for September 30.

One of the persistent challenges attending the elections throughout their cycle has beeninsecurity. As a matter of fact polling will not be going ahead in at least 26 constituencies during the upcoming elections on September 30 due to security issues. Some eighteen constituencies in Amhara region and eight in Oromia region now as well as an unspecified number of constituencies in the Afar and Benishangul-Gumuz regions will not be holding votes then. The electoral board has not decided how and when the elections will be held in these places. And no elections are scheduled to take place in Tigray because the region is under the control of the Tigray People’sLiberation Front (TPLF), rendering it impossible for the NEBE to undertake any election-related activity there.For sure there can be no polls in these troubled areas until the security situation significantly improves.

Another issue that has cast a shadow over the September 30 elections is the decision of three parties to pull out of the race due to be held in the Somali region, leaving the ruling Prosperity Party the sole runner. The parties attributed their decision to quit the elections to a host of reasons. Their gripe was primarily targeted against the Prosperity Party, which they charged withengaging in acts that marred the political landscape in the region. They accused the ruling party of blocking candidate registration, attacking or harassing candidates and members, and obstructing proper voter registration. They also laid blame at the door of NEBE, saying it failed to rectify the complaints addressed to it and chose to maintain the fraudulent acts besetting the electoral process. 

Although the electoral board downplayed the impact of the parties’ decision to withdraw from the elections, the grievances they expressed deserve serious consideration.Elections are fundamental features of democratic governance. They enable voters to choose leaders and to hold them accountable for their performance in office. They also serve as forums where informed discussions on the direction a nation should take are thrashed out and decided upon. As such they ensure that governments are responsive to the will of the people. They further legitimize the acts of those who exercise power. As such, all the actors involved in the electoral process have a solemn obligation to see to it that the electorate is able to exercise fully this hallowed right.

Ethiopia’s political arena has always been afflicted with a myriad of intractable problems that have proven insurmountable to date. The playing field is full of pitfalls for those engaged in the game of politics, the political space is constricted, and a culture of constructive dialogue between political parties is practically non-existent. Nevertheless, it is incumbenton all stakeholders pay the necessary sacrifice so that these testing challenges are tackled decisively. In view of the fact that the principle of give-and-take is a feature of politics, it is a mark of modernity to refrain from a mutually harmful political struggle and endeavor to make sure that democracy takes root. This can be accomplished by, among others, respecting the right of the public to participate in the affairs which affect its interest.

Although the goal 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, the electoral board and particularly the government do not live up to their responsibility to enable the people to choose their representatives freely, the forces which are committed to the peaceful pursuit of their goals may be compelled to take up armed struggle. As a prospect that imperils the interest of the country and the public this is something that must be averted at all costs.

Peaceful, democratic and credible elections are essentialfor the fulfillment of the aspiration of Ethiopia and its people for true democracyis to be fulfilled. Though the path Ethiopians have trod this far has undoubtedly been fraught with difficulties, theonly viable option that assures the nation’s very survival is the peaceful pursuit of political objectives. 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 is in their power to nurture itsnascent democracy. That is why it is imperative to learn lessons from the shortcomings that are attending the upcoming elections lest they prevent democracy from taking root in Ethiopia.

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