October 08, 2009 – Ginbot 7 Statement— In the two decades, following the collapse of Communism and the emergence of the New World Order, two major groups of nations have swept into the international scene. The first group includes nations that have embarked on the path of democracy and a free market economy with the concomitant reward of peace, stability and sustained economic development. The second group of nations is composed of countries that are ruled by corrupt tyrants whose governance is characterized by gross human rights abuse, economic polarization, ethnic conflict and political intolerance.
Yet, the dictators in this group are aware of the new wave of world politics. They know that they cannot continue to blatantly deny freedom and democracy to their people while receiving the lion’s share of their annual budget from democratic countries. As a consequence of this awareness, almost all of these dictators have become turn coat democrats and hold sham elections to satisfy the demand of donor nations. The reality, however, is that they never respect election results, or care for democracy.
A perfect example of one such government is the illegitimate regime of Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia that deviously preaches democracy, but has ruled the country with an iron fist for the past 18 years. The Zenawi regime has held three elections [1995, 2000, and 2005], and in each case, either the process has been grossly flawed or the election results have been famously rigged.
Five years after overturning the results of the ill fated election of 2005 and killing more than 200 peaceful demonstrators, Ethiopia’s long-ruling ethnic regime has promised yet another sham election in 2010. Inevitably, as in the past, Zenawi’s henchmen, once again, will stuff ballot boxes to ensure another victory for the incumbent regime.
Many Ethiopians who still suffer from the trauma of the 2005 election have concluded that any election under the Tigrai People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) regime is an absolute farce. Even those who are sympathetic to the regime have conceded that free and fair election is impossible as long as Meles Zenawi and the TPLF cabals remain at the helm of political power in Ethiopia.
Many members of opposition parties – including Unity for Democracy and Justice party Chairwoman Birtukan Mideksa, who is languishing in jail – have been excluded from participating in the 2010 election by arbitrary and self-serving decisions of the ruling regime. Earlier last month [September 2009], 480 members of the newly formed alliance, Forum for Democratic Dialogue in Ethiopia (FDDE) were arrested, joining thousands of political prisoners who are suffering in Ethiopia’s notorious jails.
In the last five years, Zenawi’s regime has used physical violence, a docile judiciary, extensive police powers, and executive decrees against political opponents in an effort to shape the outcome of the 2010 election. This is in addition to the massive political repression, state patronage, media monopoly and the stuffing of ballot boxes the regime used in 2005 and still at its disposal to subvert any election outcome that does not guarantee the continuance of the minority ruling party (TPLF) in power. Meles Zenawi’s rubber stamp parliament has already passed three major legislations (The Media and Freedom of Information Proclamation Law, The Charities and Societies Law and the Counter-terrorism Law) to criminalize any and all dissent, thereby, creating a one party police state.
Recently, Ethiopia’s ruling coalition party, Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Forces (EPRDF), declared that Meles Zenawi will remain the Prime Minister of the country until 2015. This bizarre and blatantly undemocratic declaration has forced international human rights advocates and many in the diplomatic community to believe that, in Zenawi’s Ethiopia, anything even close to a semblance of electoral freedom will be unthinkable. Ethiopia’s next scheduled national election might only be seven months away, but Ethiopia as a nation is years away from conducting anything that looks like free and fair election. Most Ethiopians, at present, fear the word “election” because past elections under the TPLF regime have always been associated with widespread harassment, mass arrest, and indiscriminate killings.
In order to overcome this public apathy and cynicism and to hold a truly free and fair democratic election, the ruling regime in Ethiopia must fulfill the following pre-conditions. First and foremost, to have a meaningful election process in Ethiopia; all political organizations that were forced to take their resistance of the TPLF regime outside Zenawi’s jurisdiction must be made part of the democratic process. All the preconditions set below must be met and accepted by all stakeholders and all negotiations and dialogue between the incumbent regime and opposition parties must be overseen by a credible independent group or an all-inclusive body.
01- The National Election Board must be reorganized as an independent entity.
02- There must be a free and independent media that serves the public interest.
03- There should be a clear delineation between the ruling party and the state, all political activities of the ruling party must be handled and financed by the party only.
04- The Judiciary must function independent of the Executive Branch.
05- The Armed Forces, the Intelligence, and the Civil Administration must be free from any type of overt political control.
06- The state media and all other public resources must be shared by all competing parties equally.
07- Freedom of speech and freedom of the press must be respected
08- The election must be free for national and international monitors and observers.
09- Freedom of assembly, freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join any party must be respected.
10- All political prisoners including UDJ leader, Birtukan Mideksa, must be released
Ginbot 7 believes that elections are an essential element of democracy. Free, fair, and transparent elections serve as building blocks that help create a society with democratic values where citizens rights are protected and government responsibilities to provide for the needs of its citizens is expected and abuses are checked and accounted for.
In its September 2009 report, the International Crisis Group (ICG) warned the International community that governance problems in Ethiopia are much more serious than previously acknowledged. The report clearly pointed out that “without genuine multi-party democracy, the tensions and pressures in Ethiopia’s polities will only grow, greatly increasing the possibility of a violent eruption that would destabilize the country and the region.”
The TPLF regime must accept the above ten pre-conditions and allow civil society organizations and international election observation groups to observe and monitor the elections. However, if the international community ignores the dire warnings of the ICG and if Zenawi’s regime disregards the demand of the opposition parties, the 2010 election will be nothing more than a recipe for national disaster.