The Ethiopian government said the upcoming Ethiopian election will be free, fair, peaceful and credible, according to a press release from the Ethiopian Embassy in London, but that’s impossible in a single-party, authoritarian state, critics say.
Wendy Sherman, the under secretary of political affairs in the U.S. Department of State, recently got some editorial flak when she said, “Ethiopia is a democracy that is moving forward in an election that we expect to be free, fair and credible,” according to the WashingtonPost.
The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) won 99.6 percent of the seats in the last elections in 2010. There is no doubt that the ruling party will win again, said Terrence Lyons, associate professor at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University, in a WashingtonPost opinion piece.
The party has ruled since 1991 when it took power following a long civil war. Research shows that single-party authoritarian regimes tend to be more stable and last longer than military ones.
It dominates all major economic, social and political institutions, has virtually eliminated independent political action in Ethiopia, and opposition parties are harassed, WashingtonPost reports. Ethiopia has jailed more journalists than any other country in Africa.
In 2005 — last time Ethiopia held elections with significant opposition participation, here’s what happened: There were major rallies, televised debates, and according to official results, the opposition’s share of seats in parliament rose from 12 to 172, representing 31 percent of the total. The opposition parties took all the seats in Addis Ababa and many high-ranking officials and cabinet ministers lost their jobs. This represented the potential for democratization and a major breakthrough in the ruling party’s domination, Lyons said.
But the opposition refused to accept the results and claimed fraud had denied them outright victory. Demonstrations turned violent and the Ethiopian military left nearly 200 dead and an estimated 30,000 arrested. The 2005 election began democratically and ended with what the U.S. State Department characterized as the criminalization of dissent.
The EPRDF responded by proceeding to control all aspects of political life, Lyons said.
No Western observers
The Ethiopian government said in a press release that local and foreign observers are in place to monitor the election.
The only international observers during Ethiopia’s elections Sunday will be from the African Union, and opposition parties say the A.U. observers are not critical enough of Ethiopia’s election process, according to Marthe van der Wolf writing for VoiceOfAmerica.
“We don’t think the A.U. is an international observer, it’s a legitimacy of dictatorship,” said Blue Party spokesman Yonathan Tesfaye in a VOA interview. “It’s just a cover. You have the U.S. who refused one way or another (to observe the elections), you have the E.U. who somehow admitted that the previous observations (hadn’t) done anything.”
An E.U. mission observed Ethiopia’s 2010 elections but decided to sit out the 2015 elections because its previous recommendations were not accepted by Ethiopia, according to a recent E.U. statement, VOA reports.
There was a difference of opinion between the Ethiopian government and the final recommendations of the E.U. mission, said government spokesman Redwan Hussein, according to VOA. Their recommendations had nothing to do with the election, Hussein said. “It has to do with the entire democratic system, and legal system and policy issues. So we didn’t subscribe to that… because it has nothing to do with elections.”
Does high female voter registration make a democratic election?
The Ethiopian government said in a press release that high female voter registration is one of the most important barometers of the democratic nature of any election. “The gender parity of this year’s election shows significant improvement,” the statement said. “Of the 36.83 million registered voters, 48.5 percent are women. The number of female candidates has reached 301, an increase of 149 compared to the last election (2010).”
More than 5,800 candidates from 58 political parties are running for parliament and regional offices, VoiceofAmerica reports. That means 5.2 percent of all candidates for political office are female.
The A.U. attributes the lack of female participation to a lack of encouragement and a lack of resources, VOA reports.
Election results in Ethiopia and other authoritarian regimes are settled settled months and years in advance, as powerful ruling parties restrict political opposition, civil society, and independent media in ways that virtually eliminate competition, Lyons said in the WashingtonPost.
The voting on May 24 will not provide citizens a meaningful role in selecting their next government. Such elections, however, are not pointless, Lyons said. As in other authoritarian states, elections play a key role in allowing the ruling party to show how dominant it is.