By Messay Kebede (Ph.D.) 29 May 2010 — I am still struggling to make sense of Sunday’s election from the viewpoint of the Woyanne government itself. There is no doubt that its results represent a crushing and demoralizing defeat for the opposition. Such a colossal defeat shows once again the pettiness and the self-defeating impact of the disputes among opposition forces by underlying the imperative of unity as the only path to acquire any political weight in a democratic contest. It also reflects the extent to which the opposition has underestimated the power of manipulation and intimidation that the Meles’s regime still possesses. As a result, it jumped into the electoral contest without sufficient guarantees of impartiality, a position inspired by the prevailing belief that the regime is on its last legs.
But the big enigma of Sunday’s election has to do with the exact benefit that the Woyanne ruling clique is gaining from a defeat of this magnitude of the opposition. The more the regime denies that votes were rigged and voters and candidates intimidated, harassed, and threatened, the less easily answerable becomes the question of knowing why the regime cooked up a victory claiming 99.66 % of parliamentary seats. Let alone external observers and governments, any person alien to Ethiopian politics would conclude that such a result can be obtained only if the opposition has been stifled or non-existent.
If the Woyanne regime wanted to shore up its legitimacy badly tarnished by its electoral defeat in 2005, the reasonable thing would have been to give some seats to the opposition, thereby providing some semblance of fairness to the election. To the extent that a total victory takes away all credibility from the electoral process and, therefore, defeats the initial purpose of recognition, the decision to conduct a fake election resulting in the ousting of the opposition from the parliament sounds discordant indeed. Hence my question: what is the purpose of plotting a fake election that lamentably fails to convince anyone, since we can assume that Meles and his clique expect some king of benefit from the exercise?
I have played with various hypotheses; I have also reflected on what some commentators had already said or written, such as the construction of a totalitarian state or the deliberate intention of undermining nonviolent forms of struggle. These two reasons are valid: the eradication of the opposition completes the construction of a full-fledged totalitarian state, just as it presents nonviolent opposition as a hopeless strategy. However, these two goals hardly agree with the equally important need that the Woyanne regime has to be recognized as a legitimate winner by the international community.
All the same, let us look closer: there is more than one way of obtaining international recognition. There is the democratic way of majority vote; there is also the default way demonstrating the utter insignificance or unviability of the opposition. As far as the Woyanne regime is concerned, Sunday’s election has shown to Ethiopians and the whole world that there is no opposition to speak of. In my view, the decision to concoct an election purging the opposition from the parliament reflects the TPLF’s complete desertion of the very idea of free and fair elections. The TPLF elite has drawn from its 2005 electoral debacle the final conclusion that it cannot rely on any sort of fair competition.
On the other hand, one of the implications of the total defeat of the peaceful opposition is to discourage nonviolent struggles and push more people toward armed struggle. The prospect of widened violent confrontations will allow the Woyanne to openly give up its democratic façade and crack down opponents, henceforth accused of using unconstitutional means to come to power. In this game of violence, the Woyanne regime is better equipped and experienced and can also gain recognition as a government defending itself against terrorism.
The other and by far the most important implication of the crushing defeat of the opposition is its ability to provide emotional soothing. The humiliation of the 2005 election is still fresh in the mind of many Woyanne leaders and cadres. From the viewpoint of removing an emotional wound, the landslide victory supplies a demonstration of force that humiliates both opposition leaders and those millions of Ethiopians who voted for Kinijit. It shows, by hook or by crook, the total control of the country by the Woyanne totalitarian machine. In other words, it says: here is the bare fact, deal with it!
From such a resounding demonstration of force, we can even expect a timid opening of the political space. Now that things have been straightened out, the game of “free election” can resume with the understanding that the right to oppose––a gracious gift of the victor––must never include the goal of defeating the TPLF.
The writer, Messay Kebede is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Dayton, Ohio. He previously taught philosophy at Addis Ababa University. He is the author of Meaning and Development (Rodopi, 1994) and Survival and Modernization (Red Sea Press, 1999). For comments, he can be reached at Messay.Kebede@notes.udayton.edu.