May 27, 2015

24 May Election Delays Stable, Secure and Democratic Future for Ethiopia

Almost 37 million Ethiopians had registered to cast their ballots in Ethiopia’s parliamentary and regional elections which took place on Sunday 24 May 2015. Although the results will only be announced in June, history shows that the only winner will be the long-ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), led by incumbent Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn: the party is expected to "win" nearly all - if not all - of the 547 seats in parliament and thus form the Government. Since 2005 the EPRDF has engaged in repressing any dissent and political opposition in Ethiopia, cracking down on independent media and civil society organizations, while charging government critics under harsh anti-terrorism laws. This has left the country without any viable counter voice to the ruling party and resulted in highly controlled political participation - something which according to the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and Sidama Liberation Front (SLF) is reflected in Sunday's "fake" election.

In 2010, the EPRDF won 99.6% of the parliamentary seats, with various election observation missions (EOMs), including that of the European Union, saying the election was marred by intimidations and harassment of opposition activists. Human Rights Watch stated that the victory was the “culmination of the government’s five-year strategy of systematically closing down space for political dissent and independent criticism”. Such allegations were repeated on the occasion of this year’s election, which was the first since the death of former PM Meles Zenawi, the man who transformed the EPRDF into a powerful political organisation, while completely disregarding international standards for democratic governance and respect for human rights. The Government has denied any allegations of misconduct and accused the opposition, as well as its archenemy Eritrea, of plotting a disruption of the vote. Just before the elections, PM Desalegn claimed: “We remain vigilant and confident that the general election will be peaceful, free and fair, notwithstanding destabilisation attempts that may be tried by Eritrea or its local emissaries, which we will respond to with stern measures”.

The National Election Board of Ethiopia claims that the environment created for political parties this year was exceptional. However, the only international body present to monitor the electoral process was the African Union, the headquarters of which is based in Addis Abeba. The European Union and the United States, which monitored the 2005 and 2010 elections, did not participated this time, and their recommendations from the previous years remain largely ignored. It should also be noted that already before the Election Day, human rights groups claimed on Saturday 23 May that the polls could not be free or fair due to a lack of freedom of speech and participation byindependent media.

According to Al Jazeera, the voting process itself was smooth but the fractured opposition has complained of irregularities in the run-up to the election and of harassment and intimidation of their supporters. Furthermore, opposition groups also complained that several of their members were detained. Despite all these allegations, on the day of the election, the African Union’s EOM stated that the electoral process was held in an "orderly manner". The polls closed at 6 pm on Sunday, but the final results will only be released by the National Electoral Board after 22 June 2015.

In a joint statement released the day after the elections, the Ogaden National Liberation Front, the Oromo Liberation Front and the Sidama Liberation Front put forth that the elections were not an expression of the democratic will of all the people, and that the preparation, the process and the final results of this election were and will be intentionally flawed. Therefore, according to international standards,  the election process cannot be considered free, fair and impartial. The three liberation fronts also argue that is not an accident that the international community opted out of observing this election, and instead purposely kept away to avoid legitimising this fake excercise of democracy. The complete statement is available here.

As highlighted during the latest in a series of conferences organised by UNPO, entitled "Cartoon Democracy: Authoritarian Rule and Elections in Ethiopia", UNPO deeply regrets that ethnic and political opposition groups in Ethiopia were once again deprived of their basic right to freely participate in determining the future course of their country. This should serve as a wake-up call for the EU, US and UK - the three largest development donors to Ethiopia - to better monitor and condition how their funds are being spent and to increase their support to democracy and human rights. Otherwise, the much praised stability of Ethiopia is very much at risk. For conferences highlights, click here

Photo Courtesy of: World Bulletin

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