Last ditch attempt at blowing dust

Originally posted on Nov.5, 2009

The News

Four political parties are said to have agreed upon and signed a “code of conduct” that would make it easier for them to run for the 2010 general elections in Ethiopia. At the moment it is the governing party which is known to the public or to whoever is concerned. The three “opposition parties” who signed the code are Coalition for Unity and Democracy (a creation of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia and awarded to an Ayele Chamiso), the All Ethiopian Unity Organization, and the Ethiopian Democratic Party. The leaders of the latter two are much more known than the parties they supposedly represent. The agreement on the code of conduct was signed by the prime minister wearing his hat of a party leader.

The Message

dr-merera-gudina-and-professor-beyene-petrosThe appearance of the prime is symbolic in view of the rare appearances he makes with opposition politicians. He is normally satisfied with sending his all too powerful lackey who officially is the communications advisor with a minister portfolio.

The TPLF boss didn’t show up there for the Ethiopian public. That was rather an attempt to hoodwink the major donors who from time to time talk of the ever ‘narrowing political space’ in the country. It sells well also with those who think in absence of a “strong opposition”; Meles is the messiah who can lead the horn of African nation to the Promised Land.

In view of the pressure some of the donors exerting on those who didn’t join the charade, particularly the Forum (Medrek), the stunt seems to hit the intended target. Even more so, Forum may succumb to the pressure as they will be threatened with cancellation of their certificates as parties.

The calculation

Forum (Medrek) which is a motley group of eight parties and individuals have some personalities who can make noise. TPLF has warned from the outset it has learnt a lesson from the 2005 elections and they will not tolerate any similar behaviors. While TPLF wants some of them in the parliament as it had done ever since 1995 following the adoption of the constitution jointly written by Meles and the late Kifle Wodajo, it doesn’t want any more seats for the nominal opposition. As it has been observed recently every result must be in the 99 percent realm.

The last local elections were reminiscent of the Maoist states of the 70s from which TPLF draw its ideology. In the 2008 local elections TPLF got 3.5 million cadres elected for the various local and regional councils (That is about the entire population of Congo Brazzaville). The news was that only three people were elected from other ranks.

Though TPLF would allow Forum to contest the elections under their own terms, what Hailu Shawel gave him was more than they bargained for. It was a God sent moment. So if Forum is forced to boycott the elections, it is the party of Lidetu and Hailu who will be contesting. Is there anyone by now who believes that they will ever win a seat in a fair election? But no surprises if both show up in the parliament next year. TPLF will work hard to get them elected.

Stories of betrayals

During the 2005 elections and aftermath, in addition to the killings, torture, imprisonment and intimidation, there were a fair amount of betrayals and frequent changes of sides that undermined the opposition. Some were monumental. Like that of Lidetu Ayalew, the act of which earned him the nickname Kihdetu Ayalew.

It is almost a fresh memory when Hailu stood as a symbol of defiance just after the election with that famous footage of international media showing him under house arrest in his own compound. The same can be said of Lidetu when his former enemies ransacked his office and put him under house arrest.

While the latest betrayal doesn’t make a difference in the political scene, it was clearly aiming at gaining some short sighted benefits. The Engineer may have been calculating that the eminent release of Birtukan would send him into oblivion. So before she even got released, he wanted to make a statement. One cannot hide the fact that his submission to TPLF is a blow to Forum who at the moment do not know what to do. But whatever calculation the Engineer may have in his mind, it is too late too little to save his skin. For the moment Hailu has at least gained the title he has always wanted. TPLF has ordered all their media to address him as Engineer Hailu Shawel. But at the end of the day, make no mistake he is the biggest loser of all.

Sprinkles in parliament

Since the formation of the parliament, TPLF has deliberately put a couple of opposition politicians with an oratorical skill. That was supposed to give a democratic character to the rubber stamp parliament. In the mid 90s it was Major (Shaleqa) Admasse who never tired condemning the leaders of TPLF and ANDM. When he finally passed away, the government media produced a nice obituary. Then came Professor Beyene Petros, Bedru Adem, Dr Merera Gudina, Lidetu Ayalew and the likes. Each gave the parliament some semblance of democratic institution. Obituaries abound, what they will get in exchange is yet to be seen.

Now it is the members of Forum making the noise. Dr Merera Gudina, Bulcha Demeksa, former president Dr Negasso Gidada and former defense minister Seye Abraha who are being the most outspoken. Again the public is suspicious of some of these politicians for the various roles they had played earlier. Don’t blame the public!

Seye Abraha was known for his battle rhetoric before he fell out with his brothers in arms. Some like Dr Merera were unwilling accomplices of the government for deciding to join the parliament after the carnage of unarmed civilians in 2005. Probably the most notorious of them all is the biology professor turned politician Dr Beyene Petros. He has been chairman of so many political parties that this writer may be forgiven for losing track of which party he is leading at the moment. It is true that he has been the member of the parliament for over a decade. When not in parliament he was vice minister of education when TPLF just took power.

In conclusion

Whatever the agreements or code of conducts,  no fundamental change will occur in Ethiopian politics at  at least for the foreseeable future. The result of the election has been a fait accompli since long time. The systematic elimination of opposition politicians has left TPLF to be the sole party that calls the shots for many years to come. In the mid 90s some leaders of the party were talking of becoming the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) of Ethiopia, in reference to the Mexican governing party that was in power for over 70 years. But then PRI was defeated and that talk slowly died down.

What this election is good for the ruling party is not about political transformation of the country. They also have an economic incentive. The year is already promising for Trans Ethiopia owned by the Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT) which is already amassing fortune out of the transportation of food to the drought affected areas. They will also make more money in the transportation of election materials to the various corners of the country. Party cadres will definitely benefit from the per diem and other perks when they will be assigned to carry out the elections. The party owned publishing houses like Mega will be busy printing the various materials. The list goes on and on. These are the other altruistic reasons for undertaking the elections.


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