Gov’t, Parties, Voters Can Make 2020 Successful

It is never too soon to speak about elections. Although there are many indicators that Ethiopia should not have one before a settlement is reached between major parties over the organisation of institutions and laws, it is likely we are heading toward one without significant changes.

National elections are held in Ethiopia every five years.  Each time, voters elect members of parliament, which in turn get to elect a prime minister. Local elections, which were supposed to take place this year were postponed by parliament, a pattern that has been followed.

The general election will take place in 2020. This means that while parties do not have much more than a year to campaign and win the hearts of the public, the state has a lot of cleaning up to do.

From the perspective of the parties currently not in power, which includes all of them other than the EPRDF and its allies in the peripheral regions, campaigning requires raising funds and enlisting membership. In crude terms, this is called marketing.

What should be surprising to outside observers though is that of the dozens of parties in the country, those that seem to have enough funding, membership and popularity are those that have recently come to Ethiopia from overseas. Currently, many have not even registered with the National Election Board of Ethiopia.

In the same token, a great deal of the opposition parties that are registered have little public acceptance and do not even seem to have enough funding to campaign adequately.

The only possible way out of this is merging along ideological fault lines or common values, which would also be healthy to the nation’s politics. There is no better way of ensuring that the opposition can put on a strong race against the incumbents, unless they can merge together.

Some may argue it is always possible for an opposition party to be popular in a short period in the manner Bernie Sanders was during the US general election. But there is little evidence that a party not popular to this point can make a show of force when the elections get closer.

Despite the positive contributions opposition parties could make to the nation’s infant democracy, the greatest task lies with the government. The biggest chore is having to ensure stability and law and order in the nation, across every region. Without security, it is impossible to assure that there would not be voter intimidation or even that an election can be held in a particular place.

Just as important is the mountainous task of having to make the democratic institutions independent in the eyes of the public. This requires empowering the courts to exercise the rights and duties they have been afforded constitutionally but lately overshadowed by the executive body of the government.

It would also help to transition from the traditional use of paper-and-pencil ballots. With the appropriate cyber security infrastructure, it would have multiple advantages to transition to electronic voting. It would help possible voters in disconnected rural areas have a say in the nation’s politics, speed up the counting of votes and make the management of elections less costly to the public coffer.

What remains unaddressed here are the voters, which also have a huge contribution to make. Primarily, exercising the right to vote helps democracy in allowing the government to become more egalitarian to all the different groups of society.

But more than voting, what is necessary is being informed. It is easy to be dazzled by the words of politicians who may throw around high-sounding and sectarian policy prescriptions, but looking under the cover and making the right decision requires having a good understanding of the nation’s political and economic system.

The media could be of help here but the burden of making the 2020 general elections one we could all be proud of ultimately lies on the shoulders of voters.

By Belay Abera
Belay Abera is a public health professional and researcher. He can be reached at

Published on Nov 03,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 966]



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