What unfortunately happens often regularly in the less well established democracies is first of all ‘deny the defeat’ or not acknowledge the victory of the rivals. They are prone to crying foul. Instead of examining internally why they lost the elections, many political forces keep themselves busy trying to find excuses to cover their failures.
It could be legitimate to doubt certain procedures, but they are often seen resorting to a show of force by calling for ‘street protests’ and violence rather than well pondered and reasoned legal procedures! This can only be taken as a show of immaturity and irresponsibility, lack of vision and positive prospects. When shall we learn that such actions have often led countries to face unjustifiably enormous human and economic costs?
As long as the political leaders do not settle with some sort of deliberations around a table and compromise, the economy suffers as do the people who live their lives on a daily engagement; and working environments are disrupted as are services.
We have often observed that these post election periods are decisive epochs because they have the potential of creating extended cycles of confrontations. The eventual risks are that they unsettle the country. Then follows the government’s critical and painful decisions. We have repeatedly witnessed that the major problem of most underdeveloped countries in the aftermath of elections has been the hostilities owing to disputes and disagreements on the polls.
It is true that not always are these post election situations run strictly legally, smoothly and peacefully. This is the huge challenge. Accusations are made that respect for the laws is violated at times even by the incumbent or forces that are closely affiliated to it.
We have seen many times in the past particularly in African post election periods when leaders of political parties at the losing end of the polls immediately engage in protests not accepting the declared results. These acts are in some cases planned even before the polls! In many instances the arguments used to refer to alleged irregularities are attributed to the ruling party. In other instances, allegations of partisanship are forwarded against the National Electoral Commission or the media, or even the judiciary all accused of favouring the incumbent.
Unfortunately, incidents of violence are reported and these often lead to losses of lives and destruction. There are cases in which the incumbent says it has the duty to keep tempers cool by applying lethal force as a deterrence to violence. The government says law enforcement bodies are called to quell disruption of law and order.
This however could be a demonstration that the institutions that are mandated to manage the elections do not always enjoy unreserved trust by all parties. Another challenge. In a way, it is also the weaknesses attributed to these institutions including the judiciary, the media and other bodies that are legally required to be neutral, independent or non partisan.
African countries have not been blessed in this regard as huge weaknesses or limitations still persist. In the case of Ethiopia, we do not have a history of totally neutral and independent institutions at our disposal. These bodies have yet to prove their insulation from ‘partisan politics’. Unfortunately, what is more, most of the elections we have conducted in the past have not added any positive development or value to the enrichment of our political culture.
Rather what you hear from the public is that they are disappointed and desperate when they think of past polls. Although Ethiopia has a long history of elections (way before many of the African countries even had any sort of self-government as they were under colonial rule) the progress in this area has been poor. Countries that adopted such path very late have surpassed us!
People have witnessed the same old weaknesses in the process, beginning from the selection and registration of candidates to the playing ground. They say this is often a result of the ‘monopoly of power’ of the incumbent. All those perceived to be opposing the government and trying to depose it belong to this category. We also have had the culture of labeling and dismissing opposition forces as a threat to the national interest and national security.
The incumbent is hence intended to be portrayed as ‘the sole guarantor of peace and stability of the nation’. Such prejudice plays into the hands of the fear and anxiety of citizens who may ponder to vote for opposition forces. The debates that we have experienced in many instances have been a demonstration of such attitude and this hardly facilitates the free choice for voters.
It is easy to agree to the statement that incumbents are usually favourites in any re-election bid; and for a number of obvious reasons. The advantages of using the machinery of the state for re-election purposes could be subtle or at times overt and shameless, many critics would add. The only potential risk is if the incumbent has committed ‘visible blunders’ or had some policies which obviously have failed to meet the expectations of the public. And this is in fact the risk that critics of the current incumbent in Ethiopia say it could face.
There are undeniable achievements that could be attributed to the incumbent in present day Ethiopia, but no one can deny the pressing ‘issues of security’ in the country costing lives here and there. Normally people do not have the appetite to consider the obstacles or challenges governments may encounter during their exercise of power.
Citizens believe that governments need to be strong enough to guarantee peace and stability under any situation. But in all fairness to the incumbent, what could be labeled the multiple national and international challenges the government faces now has been rated by many as ‘beyond its current capacity’. We have heard the premier admitting that demanding peace and stability in the country at all costs cannot work out while it is not supported by active and unreserved involvement of citizens.
He spoke of recruitment of fresh forces to be injected in the national defence forces, and in the law enforcement. He has reiterated that given the multiple engagements and the equally numerous sacrifices it continues to make, the national defence force needs reinforcement.
The premier seems to argue that the achievements of his government should hence be viewed against the backdrop of such developments. There was not enough time and collaboration among citizens when he needed it most. That is why he seems to suggest that only with unity behind his party could the country move ahead one step towards overcoming all these challenges posed in front of our eyes.
That is why he insists that people should come out in droves and vote for his candidates. Will his recommendations be heeded? Only time will tell. Will the country fall into post election trauma again? Again only time will tell. But if we all work scrupulously to avoid it, it is not impossible to achieve peaceful election aftermath.
BY FITSUM GETACHEW
The Ethiopian Herald May 4/2021