The pre-election situation and the process of the election itself and the position taken by Medrek [the opposition coalition aka Forum] after the election have been publicised broadly. Much of this note may be similar to what has been public already.
However, the note will give some indication of what is going on after the election. The note is based on information gathered from participants of a two-day seminar organized by the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) last weekend. Twenty-six people from different parts of the country participated in the seminar. I have not given the names of the 26 people and from where they came due to obvious reason.
II. Pre-October 2010 Situation
The election process of the May 2010 election started after September 2010 and with the beginning of appointing election administrators at the different Election constituencies. According to information compiled in the reports of the participants of the seminar, it was unanimous that the EPRDF was using public facilities for party activities including for the election. This was already the practice since 2001 when EPRDF decided to use the state power for itself. The EPRDF appointed party cadres in the government cabinet and allowed these to get government salary and allowances. These party cadres were generally appointed as Heads of Public Relations offices, advisers to the chief executives or heads of the offices of People’s Organization (youth, women, micro-credit and etc.). They are also responsible for organizational and indoctrination work in the government offices. (Recruiting and organizing members, collecting monthly contribution and collecting money from public workers for different fundraising activities, control and monitoring and evaluation (Gimgama) to make sure that members and workers follow the Revolutionary democratic line).
The cadres so appointed have their offices in government buildings and EPRDF does not pay rent. They are allowed to use all office facilities including stationary, copy and fax machines, telephone, computers, and so on. They do not pay for electricity, water and telecommunication. Government employees such as cashiers, cleaners, messengers, guards are at the service of the EPRDF offices in the government buildings. EPRDF uses any public halls available be it administration buildings, other government institutions, schools and health service institutions. Government vehicles are at their disposal including vehicles allocated for field work i.e. for agriculture and health agents. Teachers, health workers and agriculture agents are dispatched to different Qabales for party activities.
This situation was aggressively practiced by the EPRDF since 2005 and was universal in the country and from top to the lowest level. There is no separation of the state and the party, according to the informants. (Note that the heads of EPRDF party centres in Addis Ababa are appointed as “advisors of the prime minister with position of ministers.”)
II. Campaign Phase
- Zone, Woreda and Qabale officials out for election campaign and other election activities for months
People from Amhara region claim that the administrators and civil servants were out for election work in the different Qabales for three months before the voting day. This may seem a little exaggerated but information from other parts of the country confirm that public administrators and workers were out for a long time, leaving their offices closed to the public who come to get services.
- Curfew imposed during election campaign
There are reports that there was imposition of curfew in some parts of the country during election campaign. In some places if two persons were seen on the streets in towns standing and discussing they were arrested and kept in custody for the night. Such cases are said to have happened in some places in Amhara and Oromia Regions.
- Forcing people to swear and give oath that they will vote for EPRDF and not for Medrek
It has already been widely reported that cadres and members of the EPRDF had voters sign that they will vote for EPRDF. But EPRDF people went further to dispatch traditional and religious leaders (both Christian and Muslim) to go around in the villages and ask people to swear that they will vote only for the EPRDF and perform oath rituals. (I have personally heard about such incidents in north and south Ethiopia when travelling around on election campaign.)
- Using Malicious Propaganda against Medrek
It has been already reported that the EPRDF tried to discredit Medrek by falsely defaming it as “agents of neo-liberals”, “agents of Shabia”, “member of the alliance of destructive forces”. While in South Ethiopia during the election campaign, I heard from several people that members and supporters of the EPRDF were using the priests of Protestant and Orthodox Churches to propagate in their sermons that Medrek is Anti-Christian and will bring terrorist groups into the country if it wins in the election. Similar negative propaganda was also used in other areas among the Christian community. But the information from north Ethiopia is interesting. UDJ is said to be particularly Anti-Islam because it is said to be Liberal. UDJ is accused to be member of the “Neo-Liberal and Anti-Muslim Coalition of the Western countries”.
The propaganda was different in some Oromo areas. Reports from Iluababor, Arsi and Bale confirm that Medrek, particularly OPC and OFDM, are accused of being agents of the OLF. But UDJ was accused of being an organization of the Nafxagna.
- Intimidation, harassment, threats, bribing and other forms of corruption
This situation has been widely reported by others already. Here, I would like to mention that watches made in China with EPRDF symbol were massively distributed freely in addition to T-shirts and caps. Money was also given.
But interesting is the use of relief and safety-net programs for election campaign. It has to be noted that the Qabale leaders are either members or supporters of the EPRDF. It has also to be mentioned that the storages of the food for these programs are under the control of the Qabale leaders. It is also the leaders of the Qabale who control the distribution of the food. The donors or others transport the food up to the storage centres and do not oversee what happens after that. Thus, it is obvious that the distribution of aid food and money in relief and safety-net programs would be used by the EPRDF for its own advantage.
In connection with the May election, informants from different areas of the country claim that aid food and money was refused to Medrek members who were told to go to their own party to receive help. Besides, it should be mentioned that distribution of food aid massively in the middle of election campaign is nothing else than bribing voters, a form of corruption. I have personally witnessed situations which confirm this fact. I was in Wolaita Sodo when hundreds of trucks loaded with grain (from USAID) entered the towns of Wolaita Sodo and Arbaminch just a week before the voting day. I travelled to Awasa from Wolaita Sodo on Monday before the voting day for a campaign public meeting. I could not believe my eyes at what I saw coming back to Wolaita Sodo from Awasa in the afternoon. In almost all Qabales I passed by in Alaba and Damot Gale Woredas. I saw thousands of farmers either assembled or going home with sacks of food on their backs, shoulders or loaded on donkeys and going home in different directions. In their hands, you could see the flags of EPRDF with its election symbol, the bee. According to informants, people are called to come and receive aid food. Before food was handed out, lectures were made and attendants were urged not to forget voting for EPRDF.
- School children and students of training centres, colleges and universities barred from electing.
Reports from many parts of the country confirm that school children, trainees and students who were known or suspected to be members of Medrek were not allowed to be registered as candidates or voters even if they were above the age of 18. In some areas, students could not register or vote with the argument that they were not residents. (By the way, all Ethiopian citizens living outside of Ethiopia did not vote and thus one of their important citizenship rights is not respected.)
- Beating ups, imprisonments and shootings
There are reports from all over the country that people were beaten up just because they supported Medrek and even just because they took campaign flyers. In Kamisie (Oromia Zone in Amhara Region) 11 such cases are reported. In Bench/Maji Zone three members of Medrek were beaten up. One was seriously injured and had to be hospitalised at Black Lion Hospital in Addis Ababa. A candidate of Medrek in Kamisie was shot at four times from the distance while on election campaign. The bullets missed him by chance. This was on May 15, 2010 and the candidate phoned me and informed me about it while I was driving on the beautiful but dangerous mountains of Darashe/Gidole going to the town of Gidole for campaign.
In Bahirdar a health worker at the Felege Hiwot Hospital was imprisoned for three months and was expelled from his job after coming from prison after the election.
- Taking photos and video films
One of the directives given to the lower cadres and members from EPRDF centre was that meetings of the Medrek were recorded (audio, camera and video) for use for future actions (court or otherwise). It was therefore very common that pictures were taken and audio and video recorded by EPRDF people of campaign meetings of Medrek. In many places voters who wanted to attend the campaign meetings organized by Medrek returned home when they saw EPRDF people carrying cameras. This is how EPRDF people sabotaged campaigns. I witnessed such situations when I was on an election campaign in Dessie, Waldia, Kombolcha, Kamisie, Jinka, Gidole, Dawro, Qucha/Selamber and Awasa. Similar reports have come in from other parts of the country.
- Disturbing Election Campaigns
Information gathered last week confirm the difficulties faced by Dr. Marara. Dr. Marara of OPC has reported about the difficulties he faced in Shoa, Arsi, Harar, Bale, Borana and Guji while on election Campaign. Medrek has also reported several incidents of disturbances. Ato Temesgen and I have faced similar situations in the town of Konso and Keyafer. Our car was stopped and we were insulted by young people who wore EPRDF T-shirts.
- Change of administrative structures to help EPRDF win
According to a report from Amhara Region , some areas where residents of small towns were suspected to be opponents of EPRDF rural Qabales were integrated into the town Qabales so as to get majority vote with the help of farmers.
- Leaking of list of Medrek representatives by the election administrators to EPRDF cadres and administration officials.
Reports from almost all parts of the country confirm that the names of Medrek representatives supposed to be observers at the polling stations were leaked to the EPRDF people days before the voting day. These used the lists to approach the observers to bribe, intimidate, threaten, beat up or imprison them.
- Weakening of Joint Party Committees at the local level.
According to the election law joint committees of parties established by the electoral board at the local levels for solving problems were deliberately weakened to avoid working with Medrek.
- Punishing individuals cooperating with Medrek.
There are reports that people who rented their houses or rooms to Medrek for campaign or other party activities were punished. Candidates of OPC on election campaign trip were not allowed to rent hotel rooms. There are also reports that some people who rented their cars for Medrek campaign work were punished. I have personally witnessed that an owner of a bus who rented it to our local representatives for election campaign was given warning and he refused to go further after he drove for some time in the town of Wolaita Sodo.
- EPRDF tactic of registration and campaign
House to house election campaign is permissive in democratic countries. One should not complain if EPRDF used this tactic. But the problem is that EPRDF went too far so that cadres, members and supporters were sent around not only for house to house campaign but also to have people sign on forms promising that they will give their votes to the EPRDF. Supporters were members of women and youth leagues, micro-credit associations, micro-industry and business owners, car parking attendants, stone layers, seasonal workers (10,000 cotton collecting women, according to a report from Debremarkos) and unemployed women and youth were used in campaigns, intimidations and disturbances.
- Ballot papers were distributed already before May 23rd
III Voting Day, May 23, 2010
- Group voting was the order of the day
People who promised to vote for the EPRDF by signing were woken up before dawn (in some areas as early as 4 a.m.) and grouped together in five up to eight. A member of EPRDF led the group to the voting centre, entered the booth and controlled that the voters put their signs on the correct place. The independence of voting, privacy and secrecy of voting was openly violated. The police, the election administrators and the public representatives sitting around cooperated. In many places the election administrators were Qabale officials.
- Medrek representatives were hindered from observing.
Many Medrek representatives were not allowed to come to the ballot centres. Many were arrested the day before and released the day after the voting. Others were chased away when they appeared at the centres.
- Ballot bags found filled with ballot papers
Many Medrek representatives (observers) who could enter the ballot centres found ballot bags already filled. Complaints from them were not heeded to.
- Centres closed early
There were centres which were closed early after the groups organized by the EPRDF people have voted. Medrek supporters were told to wait till the EPRDF voters cast their ballots. When their turn came they were told to go home and the centres were closed.
- No proper counting
Informants from many areas say that there were no proper counting of the ballots. Representatives of Medrek were either chased out of the room when counting started or were ordered to sign on the results of wrong counting.
IV. Post-Election Situation: Retaliatory Punishments
- EPRDF meetings
The EPRDF has organized two types of meetings in many parts of the country for civil servants and party members. One was concerning the election while the other was about the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP). Participation was mandatory. Persons who did not attend the meetings were punished.
In areas where the EPRDF lost in the election the civil servants and members were forced to confess that they did not work according to the directives given them and make open self criticism.
Meetings on the GTP were not lively. Participants did not comment.
- Confiscation of land
Local administrators take away land from Medrek members and give it to their relatives and friends at will. The so called distribution of ID cards or land use license is not guarantee for ownership of land. People are told that land belongs to the government. Those who complain about this situation are told to go to Medrek.
- Business license not renewed
Many members and supporters of Medrek report that their business licenses
are not renewed for the Ethiopian year 2003. No reason is given them.
- Expulsion from government jobs and demotions
Several candidates and members of Medrek are expelled from jobs in government institutions. There have been demotions in positions and salaries. The cases of a woman in Awasa and two men in Bahirdar are examples of such a situation prevailing all over the country.
- Discriminations in training, education and employment.
People complain that they are discriminated against placement in training and education institutions just because they happen to be members or supporters of Medrek. The same is true in employment. Interestingly EPRDF members who were members of the last parliament get jobs in government institutions. But many former MPs who were government employees before joining the last parliament are not re-employed.
- Discrimination in distribution of aid food
Reports are coming that there is still discrimination against members and supporters of Medrek when aid food is distributed. People are told to go and get help from Medrek.
A woman called Misrach, a member of Medrek, who worked as messenger in the office of the regional administration could save herself from being arrested after she came out of work and was walking home. She cried out laud. People ran to see what was happening and demanded from the security agents to leave Misrach alone. The security people went away without Misrach. But Misrach was fired from her job the next day. This happened a few weeks after election. Misrach is still unemployed. Incidents of arrests and imprisonment are many, according to reports from different parts of the country. The news of the imprisonment of five leaders of an opposition party for fifteen days in this month in Gurage Zone (See Reporter News Paper of 07.11.2010) is a good example to depict the situation.
- Protection and security
There are complaints in many areas that members and supporters of Medrek are refused security and protection against robbery or other forms of attacks. People are told to go and get protection from Medrek.
- Participants of the seminar noted that the public is angry at the prime minister because he lied. On May 25, 2010 he declared that he would respect the people who did not vote for the EPRDF and that he is ready to work with the opposition who could not get seat in the parliament. However, just not more than 15 days ago he declared that his party is not ready to cooperate with Medrek because it did not sign on the Code of Conduct.
The prime minister has forgotten that the Code of Conduct is already a law and that political parties and citizens have to respect the law. Since when is it demanded from citizens to declare that they will abide by the law and asked to show this by signing?
- General attitude among the public
Several reports indicate that there is general frustration, hopelessness and resignation among the public because of the way the election was carried out and because of the retaliatory actions of EPRDF after the election and because of the worsening of economic and social problems. People have lost confidence in courts. Many do not think that peaceful struggle and election can bring change. Many hope that God or other forces will come to liberate them from EPRDF. Many doubt that the GTP will be successful.
Five months have gone since the May 2010 Election. The EPRDF has refused to redress the wrongs in the election process and has gone ahead to form a government. The EU-IOM which we hoped will indicate the wrongs has not yet published its final report on the election. News is out that the report is due on Monday the 8th of October. So what? Will it be of any value now than recommending some areas which need improvement for future elections? It seems that the question of responsibility and accountability will not be raised neither by the IOM nor by member states of EU. These questions are left to the people, the tax-payers of the donor countries and the people of Ethiopia who struggle for the respect of their rights: Justice, Democracy, Freedom and Human rights. Growth and transformation will not come and will not be sustainable without practice of these universal values. The post-election situation does not indicate that these values will be upheld by the EPRDF. The situation thus calls on the opposition, particularly members of Medrek, to strengthen themselves and be able to mobilize the people to struggle to have their rights respected. No change will come from anywhere else, nor from God, nor from outside and nor from the barrel of the gun. It seems, how ever it looks dark, that there is light at the end of the tunnel. The case of Misikir and the residents of Awasa is also an indication of what will be at no far a time in the future.
Dr. Negasso Gidada, who was president of Ethiopia from 1995 to2001, is a senior member of the opposition Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), a member of the coalition Forum (Medrek). Prior to that, he was one of the very few dissenting MPs in the rubber-stamp parliament of Meles Zenawi. He broke with the regime in 2001 after he condemned Meles Zenawi as 'brutal' as his predecessor, former dictator Mengistu Haile-Mariam.