Make or Break Moment for Ethiopia

During the 5th national election held in 2015, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and its allies scored a landslide victory by winning all the seats in Parliament as well as in regional and city councils. A year after EPRDF achieved this clean sweep, however, a series of nonviolent protests sparked off in the nation, later turning deadly. Witnessing this in a country run by a government supposedly almost unanimously elected by voters just a year prior was surprising for Ethiopians and the international community alike.The deadly violence and instability seemed over when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) came to power in 2018. The political transition altered many aspects of the political landscape: freedom of expression was allowed, opposition parties returned from exile, and political prisoners were freed. The government also gave institutional guarantees including the reinstatement of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia’s (NEBE) independence. However, the peace that accompanied the political transition was short lived. Breakdown of law and order together with conflict, displacement, and death became the new reality in Ethiopia. On top of political division, the country is also struggling with major macroeconomic problems like high levels of poverty, unemployment, and inflation.

The country now stands on the cusp of the 6th national election. With 47 parties finaly approved to participate, the ballot promises to be highly decisive in shaping Ethiopia’s future. Of course, there are many factors undermining the next general election. The country is still overwhelmed by ethnic tension, instability, and conflict, especially with the recent war in Tigray Region. Logistical hurdles and delays including the finalization of voter registration and timely distribution of ballot papers also pose as obstacles.

The election has been postponed multiple times and although 36 million voters have been listed nationwide, voter registration has not been conducted in areas affected by violence. Additionally, some opposition parties are boycotting the election raising complaints including the apprehending of their candidates. Some areas including the entire region of Tigray will be skipped in this election and will have no representatives. As inadequate as it seems, the election can be instrumental in taking the country at least a few steps towards an effective democratic political system. Peace is the major precondition for any election but peace cannot just be wished for.

Disagreements over the current federal system and the constitution are major issues. Such controversies can only be solved if the next election sets a legal base for these far-reaching political reforms. The winner must not aspire complete control but look to create a platform for national consensus and confer with all parties on how to bailout the country from the current deadlock. The newly formed government will be in a better position to introduce constitutional reforms and address issues related to ethnic rivalries in a relatively more acceptable manner.

However, the next election will not be a dress rehearsal on the red carpet. In a bid to conduct a successful election and avoid calamity, all stakeholders need to unquestionably discharge their duties in good faith. Political parties should refrain from inflammatory campaigning and complaints that drive their supporters to extremes. Government, itself a contestant in the election, should bequeath handling of post-election compliance to NEBE. The board, in turn, should deploy technology-based information collection mechanisms and expertise to fast-track data and provide a transparent and timely response to complaints.

As witnessed repeatedly, in volatile countries like Ethiopia where violence and conflicts are widespread, elections have the potential to either bring peace and democracy or drag the nation into mud. Given that all the previous elections were melodrama at the ballot box, this 6th national election should be the most transparent in Ethiopia’s history. EBR

9th Year • May 16 – Jun 15 2021 • No. 98


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