2020: Opposition’s Political Myopia to hand EPRDF victory on a platter?
By Zecharias Zelalem, November 23, 2018
(ethiocritical)–Ethiopia’s much hyped 2020 General Elections are two years away and people are already buzzing with excitement and glee. Ethiopia may be on the brink of its sixth multiparty elections, but the country is yet to conduct a nationwide electoral campaign agreed by both international observers and voters to have been free and fair. The democratic process has for years been scoffed at by Ethiopians who saw it as little more than a tool to legitimize the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Party (EPRDF)’s maintaining of a stronghold on political power. But current Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has gone to great lengths to assure his countrymen that things will be different this time round. He has already enacted groundbreaking reforms that has paved the way for banned opposition elements to register as political entities and engage their constituencies. People are daring to dream that 2020 will be the year they shape their destiny at the ballot box for the first time.
And yet, the men and women whose names will be on the ballots don’t appear to be doing much out of the norm, despite the magnitude of the occasion. For the opposition, which needs to grit its teeth to ensure it can hold its own in a nationwide battle of wits, there appears to be no serious upswing in activity or intention. As it stands there appears to be no indication the various opposition elements will break away from their shadows and sincerely chase after the electoral scalp that could see a handover of power from the EPRDF to someone else.
For much of the past three decades, in an effort to circumvent possible challenges to their rule, EPRDF government officials have regularly ordered opposition party members and sympathetic activists to be harassed, detained, tortured and exiled. To further counter their influence, the government would deploy young, zealous party adherents all over the country and everywhere humans are seen to be interacting. University and college campuses for instance, have long been infiltrated by regime narrative parroting cadres and students are coaxed if not pressured to register as party members and supporters. In the aftermath of the 2005 election which saw police gun down nearly 200 protesters in Addis Ababa, openly expressing defiance to the EPRDF on campus or in the workplace became tantamount to shutting the door on employment, promotion and in some cases, graduation. People give in to implicit threats and intimidation, keeping dissenting thoughts to themselves to avoid triggering the radars of party members tasked with reporting on non conformists. Ethiopia’s prisons have always been overcrowded with political prisoners accused of anything from opposition party membership to expressing sympathy for them on social media
By the time ballots are set to be cast, people are worn down and just want it to be over. Government appointed neighbourhood authority figures go door to door in Addis Ababa with a list of names of people who haven’t voted yet. You are urged to vote and vote EPRDF. Not as if there was much choice. Remaining opposition parties that haven’t been banned from participation or had its candidates jailed are by this time splintered, lacking leadership and in total shambles. One could say that elections in Ethiopia are often concluded years in advance. The alleged vote rigging that takes place afterwards is often completely unnecessary to seal the deal. With the ruling party spending taxpayer resources and deploying national security forces to nip potential political threats in the bud, the lopsided electoral results that saw the government win with “100% of the vote” during the last elections in 2015 no longer raise eyebrows. The entire process has always been a farce.
Dawn of a new era
But that was before the appointment of a young charismatic reformer as EPRDF party chairman in April of this year. The end of the Tigrayan elite dominated EPRDF was on the cards after massive uprisings in the Oromia and Amhara regions brought the nation to a standstill and hit nails on the coffin of those who ruled with impunity. Empowered by the sacrifices of protesters who died in the thousands for him to ring in the changes, Abiy Ahmed decisively shed the oppressive label of his party and declared the political process open and accessible to all. Political prisoners were released in the tens of thousands and it no longer became a federal crime to associate oneself with opposition parties, their members, emblems, flags and symbols.