The challenge of being an incumbent multiplies when elections approach, and the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) seems to understand these challenges very well, with the Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa city council elections nearly upon us.
As a party that has maintained power for the last 21 years, the EPRDF takes elections as a real-time gauge of political viability. Sticking tightly to the lines of development, the Party often declares that there is a need for elections to be viewed as a platform to express alternative approaches towards development. Yet, political opposition parties often tag it as a hegemonic process with the ruling elite possessing multiple threads of domination.
Reflecting on such claims, by the political opposition towards the EPRDF, is Temesgen Tilahun, head of the Affiliated Parties & Organisation Sector of the EPRDF. In this exclusive interview with YETNEBERK TADELE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF of FORTUNE, Temesgen explains the stance of the Party on issues relating to the upcoming elections. Excerpts:
Fortune: During the meeting called by the National Electoral Board, at Adama, on October 25, there was a disagreement, on the proposed agenda, amongst the attending parties. What was this disagreement about?
Temesgen Tilahun: During this meeting, approximately 75 political parties, who will participate in the upcomingAddis Ababaand Dire Dawa city elections, were present to discuss the draft schedule of the election, proposed by the Electoral Board. All the executive members of the Board were also in attendance. The agenda was formally announced through the media and handed out to each party before the day of the meeting.
Some of the parties, however, refused to discuss the agenda and wanted rather to discuss other issues, outside of the meeting’s planned parameters. They were thus told that they could submit them to the Board’s office at any time after the meeting. Unfortunately, however, they were not willing to do so.
It was Medrek that tried to encourage others to take up this alternative agenda. They are not even a member of the Political Parties Council, but still they tried to claim that the agenda should rather be about the issues that were being raised.
Q: What were the specific issues that they wanted to discuss?
At the beginning, they did not actually specify what they wanted to discuss. It was rather a case of complaining. It was not clear what they wanted. Some of them claimed that the political space within the country is too narrow. Others complained about the 2010 election, which they consider to have had irregularities. Some also complained that the Electoral Board is directly affiliated with the EPRDF. They couldn’t, however, justify why they were of the opinion that the political space had become narrowed.
Q: Was their agenda being discussed during this meeting?
As I told you, the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the schedule of the election. Having heard their claims, however, each was given five minutes to explain their specific issues. They tried, but many of them could not conclude their ideas within the allocated time. As a result, they were told that if they had any issues left, they could still bring it forward to the Board at any time after the meeting.
Q: Out of the 33 parties that signed the petition, there are several that are members of the Political Parties’ Council. Couldn’t they find a resolution to their problems within the Council itself?
It is a good question. The Council is a place where all the members can bring up any issues for discussion. These can be issues relating to the Electoral Board, as well as issues about the EPRDF itself. From those who are members of the Council, it was only the Ethiopian Federalist Democratic Unity Front (EFDUF) that signed the petition. Since this party is a member of the Council and thus has the chance to discuss any issues, it is not clear why it did not use that platform, instead of complaining alongside non-members parties.
As they told us later, however, they have no intention of belonging to a group where the agenda is set by Medrek. According to them, they only signed the petition in order to raise questions to the Electoral Board, so that it would hold ongoing discussions with the parties.
They said that at first they had misunderstood the plan of the petition. Then, after that they did not agree with the 11 agendas formulated by Medrek. They are also claiming that Medrek used them for the purpose of propaganda.
Q: Is EFDUF still a member of that group now?
No, they were not even present at the meeting held by the group at the main office of the Unity for Democracy & Justice Party (UDJ), on November 2. They informed them that they would not be participating in their meetings any longer. They also requested that their name be erased from the petition list.
Q: With regards to Medrek, they are still requesting to have discussions with the EPRDF. Why is your party not willing to do so?
It is not EPRDF that is unwilling for the discussions to take place, but rather Medrek, that itself failed to sign the Code of Conduct, and thus begin the discussions.
We have no problem in entering into discussions with any party on any issue. From the beginning, what we have said is that this document must be signed by any member party since it is a governing law. We have always said that if they sign the Code of Conduct, then our door is open for them at any time.
Q: Why is signing the document more important than the discussion itself?
Before I answer this question, I have to retrace the historical background of the Code. It was during the 2010 election that political parties, including the Ethiopian Democratic Party (EDP), the Coalition for Unity & Democracy, the All Ethiopian Unity Party (AEUP), the EPRDF and Medrek, had a discussion on the election process. It was agreed then that there should be a law that governs all parties, in order to have peaceful, free and fair election. Whilst this discussion was ongoing, however, Medrek left the floor and instead requested a separate discussion with the EPRDF. We have responded by saying that all parties have an equal right to discussion and that there is no need to discuss ideas independently.
Q: Medrek claims that the original set of documents are three in number, with each treating different aspects of the election process. They also claim that two of them are not actually included within the Code of Conduct. Is this correct?
Why did they not say this in the first instance? Why did they not bring this into the discussion then? Whether it is complete or not, they could have brought it forward for discussion at the time. They could have tried to explain what the advantages and disadvantages of these documents were. They did not do that. That was not their objective at the time.
This document [the Code of Conduct] has been discussed thoroughly between the parties. It is a document that adheres to international standards, and has key articles relating to the elections. It is a high quality document that many other countries also use for their election process. It is an internationally accepted document. It has all the necessary details that are crucial to handling the election process.
Q: Who brought this document up for discussion in the first place?
It was not EPRDF that brought it up first. The responsibility of preparing and presenting the document was given to the AEUP, by all the member parties. It was translated, word for word, from English to Amharic, in a process that took approximately two months.
Q: Why has the AEUP now left the council, then?
I cannot answer that question. This should rather be answered by the Party itself.
Q: Does the AEUP have any objection to the Code of Conduct?
I do not know of any. They have not said anything about it thus far.
Q: If the remaining two documents are crucial to the election process, then why don’t the members of the Council, including the EPRDF, adopt them?
It [the Code of Conduct] is already the law of the land. You cannot change the country’s law whenever you like. It has its own process. It is not the EPRDF that can change the law; it is the legislature. It is not EPRDF’s document. It is a document for all the political parties running in elections, in this country.
Q: That is what parties, such as Medrek are asking for. They are claiming that it would not be right to sign by the law of the land, as is being requested, as they would then have to abided by it. Is this right?
That is not the point. As I mentioned earlier, this party [Medrek] did not agree on the document during the initial discussions. It did not give any suggestions, but rather left the floor and requested a separate discussion. If they do not agree to sign the Code of Conduct, then what kind of discussion are they looking for?
Q: What has your party done so far for the upcoming Addis Abeba and Dire Dawa city elections?
After the Ethiopian Electoral Board announced the schedule for the upcoming election, which will take place on April 10, 2012, we have been working towards making the election free, fair and peaceful, and as such, one that can be accepted by all. To do so, we are training members of the party, on the proclamation of the political party’s election Code of Conduct, so that they will be able to work according to these regulations. A national committee has also been formed, within our party, to facilitate the election. We are very well prepared for it.
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