From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Thu Feb 18 2010 - 16:58:40 EST
EU Considers Observing Ethiopia Election as Campaign Heats Up
Peter Heinlein | Addis Ababa 18 February 2010
A European Union exploratory team is visiting Ethiopia to determine whether
to send an observer mission to monitor national elections in May. The
election campaign has taken a negative turn amid questions about whether the
vote would be fair.
A series of televised debates opened last week with a furious exchange among
parties vying for seats in Ethiopia's parliament.
The ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front dominated the
airtime, taking 67 minutes of the three-hour broadcast. Other parties were
limited to 22 minutes each.
EPRDF representative Hailemariam Dessalegn used his time to launch a
blistering attack on opposition parties, accusing them of being too weak and
disorganized to govern.
Opposition leaders fired back, accusing the EPRDF of using its control of
the electoral machinery to ensure victory for itself, making Ethiopia a
virtual one-party state. Merera Gudina, who represented an eight party
coalition known as the Forum, tells VOA the group will use the campaign to
expose, what he calls, the government's anti-democratic tactics.
"They can rule us as dictators, but not falsely portraying their image as
democrats," said Merera Gudina. "As far as they control the guns, they can
rule us. But they cannot rule us by portraying that Ethiopia is enjoying
democracy while we do not have any."
EPRDF representative Hailemariam says the ruling party favors multi-party
democracy, but in a different sense than is commonly practiced in the west.
"Our system is a multi-party system," said Hailemariam Dessalegn. "Clearly a
multi-party system, because we believe Ethiopia is multinational,
multi-ethnic, multilingual and multi religious, so one party cannot
represent all these differences, so multi party system is mandatory in
Hailemariam attributes much of the criticism of Ethiopia's revolutionary
democracy to a misunderstanding of the ruling party's philosophy.
"This is all because we do not follow the liberal democratic principles
which the Western countries are pushing to follow," said Dessalegn. "That is
why everyone is fighting us, and try to somehow criticize and disvalue
whatever Ethiopia is doing."
The debate over Ethiopia's democratic credentials comes as a European Union
mission is studying whether to accept the government's invitation to monitor
It appears none of the major U.S. observer groups will be coming. The Carter
Center has declined an invitation. The others, the Washington based
International Foundation for Electoral Systems, National Democratic
Institute and the International Republican Institute, were not invited.
Thomas Vens, a member of the EU exploratory mission says the group will
advise policy makers in Brussels about whether conditions exist in Ethiopia
for a fair election.
"We are here as a standard practice to establish whether the conditions are
in place for such a mission to take place," said Thomas Vens. "We are
putting together facts relating to that and then a political decision on
that basis of that report will be made to determine whether that would be
appropriate or not."
Another major opposition leader, Hailu Shawel of the All Ethiopian Unity
Party, worked with the EPRDF in drafting a code of conduct for the election.
But he refused to take part in the multi-party debate, and is increasingly
disillusioned about the prospects for a fair vote.
He tells VOA any foreign observer mission would face a huge task keeping
track of what he calls systemic election-related mischief.
"They have to admit this is a difficult job," said Hailu Shawel. "So they
have to have everywhere people and they can't trust anybody. Not one. Not
trust us, not trust EPRDF. They lie, they cheat every day. So how can they
observe an election and say anything when they know that all these funny
things are happening in Ethiopia. How? I do not think so."
Hailu Shawel says unless there are some guarantees of a level playing field,
his party may boycott the election.
"I do not want to complain after the election," said Shawel. "If there is no
effective observation, there is no election. We will be the first ones to
say, sorry, we don't trust the process."
The other main opposition grouping, the Forum, is taking a different
approach to a possible boycott. Leaders say they see the election not as
about winning seats, but about communicating with voters and building a
Forum strategist Siye Abraha recalled the 2008 elections, when the
opposition boycotted, allowing the EPRDF and its allies to sweep virtually
every one of more than three million local and regional council seats.
The election is set for May 23 , but opposition leaders note results will
only be announced in late June, while global attention is focused on World
Cup Football (soccer) competition in South Africa.
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