Ethiopian Herald BY SOLOMON WASSIHUN
At last, after the long roller-coaster ride, the scheduling, and canceling, Ethiopians have successfully managed to go to the polls and vote in the long-awaited general election. The sixth general election was held last Monday almost a year after its original schedule after two cancelations due to the c natural and manmade calamities including Corona, and the belligerence of anti-peace forces.
It is a resounding sweet success to Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia as it came as a result of bitter struggle and unwavering commitment and sacrifice of patriotic Ethiopians who put their life online of duty, defending their country’s peace and stability. Undoubtedly, the successful conclusion of the voting process has brought a great sigh of relief among Ethiopians as the tensions created by the destabilizing activities and the vicious media campaign of anti-peace forces were running high during the election process.
The special significance of this election is not about who won and lost the race, rather it is about ensuring a democratic system of government is still working quite well in the nation against all the odds, in stark contrast to the doom and gloom picture of the country portrayed by the international media and agencies. In that perspective, all political parties that participated in the election process could be considered as a winner, as they are the actors that contributed to the success of this nationwide effort, which seemed to be a task next to impossible just a few months ago.
With Monday’s election Ethiopia has proven to the world it is a nation of people who persevere through the rough challenges and maintain the sovereignty and integrity of their nation to be stable and strong enough to effectively exercise one of the most crucial and complex activities of a democratic culture-Elections. Ethiopia’s demonstrated ability to hold general elections at such a time when its internal and external enemies are relentlessly working in a coordinated manner is quite an achievement. The election by itself could serve as proof that the conclusions and predictions being voiced by international media and western powers are detached from the reality on the ground.
The recent comment made by the Head of the Election Board amplifies this fact. “The security situation is the issue that we watch out with our eyes wide opened. But, truth be told, as we go through the election process we found the security issue less challenging than we first thought. Even we are confident the security situation in the few places we cannot cover now could be improved with a concerted [peace making] efforts all stakeholders. we are optimistic that these places would soon be secured enough for us to conduct the missing elections by the coming September.,” she said.
Some 46 political parties have participated in the Election 2021 with about 9,500 of their candidates vying for federal and regional/city parliament’s seats. Plus, there are also around 140 independent candidates. In terms of the number of their candidates, Prosperity Party, ECSJ[Ezema], Enat parties are the front runners in Election-2021. However, that does not necessarily mean these parties that are the ones expected to emerge, dominant winners, as it is hard to predicate how the silent majority would ‘speak’ at the ballot box, which makes the election quite interesting.
In this election, close to 37.5 million people have registered to cast their votes. Several independent election observers including more than 125 international observers have participated. Regardless of its outcomes, the Election 2021 is expected to culminate with the formation of a new democratically elected government in the coming Ethiopian New year, which would be the opening of a new era in the country’s political history that has seen a chain of turbulent times over the last half-century.
Maybe it is the high unpredictability of the outcome of the elections, that made the Premier make cautious remarks in the last public appearance he made before the election date. “All we want is to see Ethiopia standing tall and strong like a rock. For that to happen we all Ethiopians need to join hands and work in unison prioritizing the interests of our nation. Therefore if we [our party]loses the elections, we will welcome the result and relinquish power to the winning party. Or if the election result leads to a power-sharing situation, we are happy to amicably work with the winning parties. And if we won the election, we will deliver all that we promised,” he said.
Several factors set Election 2021 apart from the previously held five elections over the last 3 decades. The first and foremost point here is the groundbreaking reform measures[including legal reforms] undertaken to reorganized the sole authority responsible to execute elections-the National Election Board of Ethiopia, NEBE. The board which had been widely criticized in the previous rounds of election as subservient to the will of the government is now organized as an independent democratic institution that acts and decides without the influence of the ruling party.
The current neutral and independent status of the NEBE has been attested time and again by comments given by international election experts as well as opposition party leaders.
It was reported that the budget allocated for NEBE for the election is far greater than that of the previous elections by several folds. This has enabled the Board to modernize its working system and develop better capacity to ensure the delivery of credible election results. Needless to say, the NEBE is currently staffed by qualified professionals and headed by a former judge that had also been a major opposition party leader.
It may be interesting to note that several of the leaders of the major parties that contested in Election 2021 have been languishing in jail maliciously convicted for their political outlooks, and others were dissidents in exile sentenced to death in absentia after being charged with treason and terrorism by the then kangaroo courts of the TPLF led EPRDF regime. In this election, unlike what happened in the past elections, the ruling party did not mobilize its members to stifle and hamper the election campaigns of opposition parties.
The testimony of a resident in Werabe town, Selte Zone in SNNPS testifies to this fact. “ This election[Elections2021] is quite different from the previous ones. It is not as it used to be. In the previous elections, we were not at liberty to talk freely about election matters. Likewise, political parties did not have such freedom to speak to their supporters as we witnessed during the last few months. In the previous times, we just here the news of elections, but we had no idea about who was the candidate and never meet them in person. but now, the situation has changed. I have seen political parties freely campaigning door to door deep in the rural areas.”
The considerable improvement in the voters’ awareness including those living in rural areas is much in evidence from the comments gathered by various media outlets from different corners of the country.”I do understand that voting is my right as a citizen, and so I am ready to exercise my right by voting for a party that suits me the most.
My vote matters and it could make a difference in the outcome of the elections.”, says one voter. Another inspiring comment from a lady, around 50, residing in a regional town says “ if the election is held peacefully and fairly, we will ensure sustainable peace, our life would improve, tomorrow would be a better day. Everything would be rectified as it should. I pray things would go that way.”
The unprecedented zeal and sheer professionalism demonstrated by the media is another conspicuous factor that set this election special. The media, both the public and the private have been highly committed to motivate the public to participate in the elections, raise awareness on the nation’s situations from different perspectives as well as providing platforms for political parties to get the attention of the public, and to explain their policies and programs. According to a study report by the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority, both the electronic and media in the nation which are about 57 have dedicated an unprecedented number of free air time and print spaces to party and independent candidates. The performance of candidates utilizing the free media space was found to beat the record level in the election-2021.