25 November 2012

Ethiopia: Elections Without Institutions Live Short


Few days before the undemocratic but popular Ethiopian national election of 2005 was held, the national television station broadcasted interviews of opposition figures. Amazingly, only one of them answered that he was not certain about the democratic nature of the administration that his party would be creating, if elected for office. He was indeed courageous and honest.

It is this type of courageous political campaigns that an election needs to be a democratic one. An election campaign plagued by unfounded and unpractical promises coupled with destructive approaches would certainly result only in cheap popularity. That was what Addis Abeba witnessed in 2005.

An unintelligent electorate fumed with shroud opposition politics could never make a rational judgment. This was obviously the root cause for what was an undemocratic election.

By then, in Addis Abeba, incompetent political opposition won the realist and relatively competent incumbent by a wide margin. Yet, they did not deserve it, to say the least.

But what went wrong? And who was the culprit for the wrong judgment of the urban dwellers?

The repressive imperial regime and international events, including the end of WWII, anti-colonial movements and civil right movements across different parts of the world, were having impacts on national democratic movements. Consequently, few youngsters who were clever enough to understand the possible negative impact of the then political unrest inEthiopialeft their respective universities for the remote jungles and deserts to fight for a regime change.

Apparently, they came back to the cities with victory, after 17 years of struggle. This time around, however, they were gentlemen with enough ambition to establish a democratic government. Nevertheless, they were too naïve to appreciate the deep-seated skepticism that Dergue's propaganda might have brought.

Thus, they opened the media for private investment, immediately after they came to power. And it proved to be a wrong move.

The naïveté of the private press coupled with the negative legacy of Dergue's propaganda escalated the already growing skepticism. However, the Revolutionarists were not able to give it due attention.

Unfortunately,Eritrea's secession became inevitable, leaving a wrong indictment to them. Yet, the skepticism was on the rise.

In 2004, the Revolutionarists, known for their aggressive approach towards democratising the nation, promised to hold a democratic national election in 2005. This also proved wrong. This time around, however, they were riding with a pace of their own perception rather than being realistic.

Undeniably, their decision to open the media for private investment, suddenly rather than gradually, without the basics needed for its successful operation being in place, made them pay a lot in terms of popularity among the urban dwellers.

Their decision to hold a free and fair election was sure to prove to fail since they failed to learn from their first mistake that democracy cannot be attained overnight without the proper functioning of institutions.

Of course, the aggressive style they exhibited towards democracy is, probably, a manifestation of their old quest for revolution.

Their decision to hold a fair and free election, while the country was not ready to host it, was a common pitfall inAfrica, even if they fail to learn their fair share from the experiences across the continent. They risked the nation.

The whole political game, by then, was between a shroud political opposition whose objective was to secure votes as much as possible at any cost and a naïve incumbent who thought merit only matters. Both were more of vote predators than skilled politicians.

Apparently, the incumbent came to know, though lately, that merit alone would not if not underpinned vibrant institutions essential for a democratic election. The whole process was like the cart sprinting ahead of the horse.

Of course, the rules of the game were made by the incumbent, though the political opposition was its designer. It all led to a city voting for a misleading opposition.

The aftermath of the election witnessed the eruption of the hidden weaknesses inside the opposition camp. Though they appeared united, they were in a constant turmoil from within. Certainly, the city must have regretted.

It does not surprise me to see Addis Abeba being unable to hold a democratic election because a nation that thrived for 3,000 years without democracy could not turn out to be democratic overnight. Neither was the decision of the opposition to reject to take their parliamentary seats surprising.

Surely, the city shouldered the unbearable. It now seems to be sick and tired of paying the costs of the rush towards democracy.

The relentless patience it has been exhibiting so far may not last long. Of course, if the former approach reappears again, it would certainly say enough is enough.

AsRomewas not built in a day, Addis Abeba could not be. Surely, it has been too tolerant of the many political ups and downs. Even then, it will certainly blame the dichotomous political players for their mistakes.

Surely, building a democratic system is a grand idea. But it must be done the right way.

Willingness is not enough. Institutions must be built in advance.

Otherwise, it all will go like trying to drive a vehicle without wheels; even if one pushes it, it would not move.

Tagel Getahun Is an Advocate in Law.

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