IT’S CAMPAIGN TIME-MEDREK: CENTRIST



It is election time in Ethiopia. Political parties are doing all their best to obtain as many seats in the federal parliament and regional councils as possible. For the ruling EPRDF, the battle is all about maintaining the majority that it had for the past 23 years. But for the political opposition, the play is all about snatching the throne from the ruling party and forming a new government. As the campaigning period ingresses, DAWIT ENDESHAW, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER, sits with representatives of the ruling EPRDF and three opposition parties to converse about their preparation for the election, their thoughts about the pre-election process and their prediction of the election results. In these exclusive interviews conducted separately, Beyene Petros (Prof.), chairman of MEDREK; Reday Halefom, head of Public Relations for the EPRDF; Yonathan Tesfaye, head of Public Relations for Semayawi Party; and Chane Kebede (PhD), president of the Ethiopian Democratic Party (EDP), share their perspectives about various issues, not the last of which is their reflection on the conduct of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE).


It is election time in Ethiopia. Political parties are doing all their best to obtain as many seats in the federal parliament and regional councils as possible. For the ruling EPRDF, the battle is all about maintaining the majority that it had for the past 23 years. But for the political opposition, the play is all about snatching the throne from the ruling party and forming a new government. As the campaigning period ingresses, DAWIT ENDESHAW, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER, sits with representatives of the ruling EPRDF and three opposition parties to converse about their preparation for the election, their thoughts about the pre-election process and their prediction of the election results. In these exclusive interviews conducted separately, Beyene Petros (Prof.), chairman of MEDREK; Reday Halefom, head of Public Relations for the EPRDF; Yonathan Tesfaye, head of Public Relations for Semayawi Party; and Chane Kebede (PhD), president of the Ethiopian Democratic Party (EDP), share their perspectives about various issues, not the last of which is their reflection on the conduct of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE).   

 

Q: How is your party’s preparation for the upcoming election going?

Our overall preparations follow the time frame that has been put in place by the NEBE. We do have deadlines that we face. We are at the stage now where voter registration has expired, and then you have the candidate registration. That time has also expired.

We have some outstanding issues on both subjects, in particular on the candidate registration. A lingering issue is the representatives of the NEBE and some constituencies have refused to register our candidates. This happened even if our candidates appeared with the proper paperwork, signed and approved by us, and submitted it on time. This relates to locations, such as in Jinka, Southern Omo Zone, Mizan Tepi, Oromia and others. We have submitted our grievances to the Board. We are waiting for what kind of action the Board is going to take regarding these matters.

Otherwise, we are attempting to campaign within the population. The going is rough so far. What makes it rough is the fact that it does not seem to be rather a consistent instruction for the representatives in each constituency. Such is also the case down to the Kebele.

Our candidates are being imprisoned. The small-sized meetings that they are trying to arrange with their constituencies are being forcibly disbanded. There is a lot of coercion. Our candidates are being refused a leave of absence to campaign. They are threatened with dismissal from their jobs. In particular, our teacher candidates are now being threatened.

Q: Some controversies were seen in this pre-election period regarding procedures, lawfulness and decisions. One can mention the decision of the NEBE on the intra-party infightings of the Unity for Democracy & Justice Party (UDJ) and the All Ethiopian Unity Party (AEUP). Some say that the Board has failed to prove its impartiality in these controversies. What is your reflection?

I do not know the internal dynamics of those parties. I am not really privy to the details but my judgment is that the Board should have taken more reconciliatory measures, bringing the groups together and narrowing the differences. I just feel that the Board has not exhausted it reconciliatory peacemaking process before it arrived at its decision. That is all I can say.

Decisions are made on the basis of evidence presented. I am not sure if both sides had constantly presented evidence to the Board before its decision. I do not know. That is just the general statement that I can make about this.

Q: In view of the challenges, you mentioned that your party is facing, what is your speculation of the election result?

We are going to stand by our ground and protect the electoral process. Our constituencies will not just sit and watch. We know there are so many schemes that the ruling party, and in particular, the local cadres, have put in place to undermine the free and fair balloting and count of the ballots . But we will be struggling to the end.

Q: What is your party’s target as far as results are concerned?

We have more than 300 hundred candidates for the federal parliament and close to 900 or so for regional councils. We want to win it all.

We are looking forward for a comfortable win in each of them, and to forming a government. Our preparation is geared to that end.

Q: Some political commentators and scholars are saying that the public is not ready for an election vibe as comparable to that of election 2005. What is your say?

All the evidence that I have is that the public is more than prepared to engage in the election. We, as a party, were pushed into this election by the public.

We, as leaders, have our own reservations about how fair and free this election will be. And our reason for that is the ruling party, which, last time, declared a rather funny and disrespectable 99.8 percent victory. We have been demanding to sit and negotiate the electoral landscape for the past five years but they have refused until now.

The ruling party still wants to play the dirty game and declare, maybe this time 100pc victory. That is its wish.

While we were contemplating whether or not to take this election seriously, the public pressure we have had is overwhelming. The public thinks that by going into this election, we can replace the EPRDF, or as they say, “get rid of them”. The public thinks that by challenging the government, a difference can be made.

  1. Your party is known for having familiar political figures in its leadership. What is the role of the new generation in your party?

In as much as the masses are the makers of history and individuals can make a difference, you need to have some figurehead. You need to have leaders that will be the in forefront of the situation and lead.

We do have both young and old, seasoned political leadership in our group. All that it takes is for all of us to be able to deliver and to contribute to the struggle that we are in. The problem that we have in this country is the fact that the democratic process is suffering from lack of educated and seasoned political figures.

Our party has a youth wing. We have them in our leadership. Our motto is let everyone – old and young – contribute to the struggle for democratization in Ethiopia. That is all.

  1. Your party is a front of political parties. Do all these parties share the same ideological line?

No. We operate on agreed minimum political agenda. This is negotiated and agreed upon. It is going to be political platform for the next five years, if we become the government. In that case, the government we will form will be a government of national unity. It is not going to be strictly ideological.

It is a government of national unity that will have the first task of leveling the democratic playing field. Its first task will be to institute human rights, individual rights, press rights, level the playing field and infuse peace and reconciliation.

Thus, in the first five years would be the period where good government should be in place. The federal entity will be there; and the constitution will be there.

We are talking about constitutional amendment and agreeing on how to go about it. That is the kind of government we want to form. Therefore, the agreed minimum political program is what we are operating under. And it has been signed by all members.

Ours is a mature front. Incidentally, we are a front like the EPRDF. And we have gone a long way in refining our political agenda over the years.

  1. Any ideological line as front, then?

Our group now is a centrist. There are some liberal ones, while others are nationalistic. We try to strike some kind of a balance between the parties in our program.

  1. Recently, there have been critiques in the role of the role of diaspora in Ethiopian politics, which, sometimes, is alleged to go beyond the line to influence and design roadmap for opposition political parties. What is your say on the issue?

The role of the diaspora should be at the ideas level, like contributing when we craft our political agenda and then support what local actors are actually planning and performing. This role is confused at times. I am not new to the diaspora. In fact, honestly, I am the long standing politician that has been visiting the diaspora over the last 20 or so years. I have visited every corner of the world where there are a large number of Ethiopians. I have spoken to Ethiopian communities on various subjects. I have been engaged with them.

But things have changed since the 2005 electoral fiasco. The false promises made at the time that every Diaspora is going to walk into Ethiopia sooner created a problem. When the Diaspora failed to see it happening, they started behaving haphazardly and without focus. Again, this is rather a very small minority, highly vocal group of people.

The big majority is quiet, does not go either way. My criticism of the Diaspora relates to this lack of focus and lack of patience. They want a quick fix. And there is no quick fix in Ethiopian politics.

EPRDF is not a push-over. These are people extremely scheming. They have excelled in the art of international disinformation, such lobbying, paying for lobbyists and playing the game in acquiring international support. Dealing with these guys requires to work from the grassroots up.

  1. How do you compare the process of the last election with this one?

There is no difference. The EPRDF are doing the same things. They have placed the same election administrators. They have the same electoral board. They have the same cadre tactics of undermining and coercing. It is the same so far.

  1. What are your thoughts about the NEBE’s conduct?

We have always held the view that the Board is partial. That is by its very nature of creation.

The Board is hand-picked from EPRDF loyalists or a bunch of incompetents that may not even understand what is at stake in this electoral politics vis-à-vis the future of Ethiopia. Some individuals just do not understand the weight or the burden of it so they behave in an insensitive manner; wrongfully conducting the elections without thinking about how that would reflect in the future of this country.

It all relates to the very nature of how they are picked

  1. But if you think the Board is partial, why are you taking part in the election?

We do this because we want to force this into them and to let them know that we will not allow them to cheat. We will not stand by and accept all that scheming.

We are taking part not because the elections would be free and fair, but because our people refused (and will refuse) to succumb to that kind of fraudulent behavior.

  1. Any message to your party’s constituency?

My message to our constituency is to be as peaceful as possible and at the same time stand their ground not to allow a fraudulent electoral process, which EPRDF and its cadres may be wishing to see.



By DAWIT ENDESHAW
FORTUNE STAFF WRITER

Published on March 9, 2015 [ Vol 15 ,No 775]


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