Getting Legitimacy: What the Illegitimate TPLF Should Do Now


The possible outcomes of Ethiopia's 2005 legislative elections seem to be narrowing down. The National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) has declared the TPLF/EPRDF party the winner of the majority of the seats for the federal parliament as well as for four other major regional states. The two main oppositions now appear to focus more on the resolution of the political saga through peaceful legal means than through violence and other means. 


The United Ethiopian Democratic Front (UEDF) and the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) have recently made a joint statement calling for the formation of a National Unity Government for a short time. Why for short time instead of the five year term they competed for is not clear. According to their current standing, they have no mandate to rewrite the constitution. It would be plausible if their demand were for the next five year term.


Nonetheless, those in the oppositions who opted to put peace before anything must be commended for their farsighted call. There is also pressure from the international community on all parties to resolve the conflict peacefully, which is also welcome.


As Voice Finfinne wrote recently, peace in Ethiopia and in East Africa region is the most expensive political commodity today. In their joint statement, the oppositions have clearly stated that "... any deterioration of [the political crisis] to a violent confrontation would be a disaster to the country." The press release also notes that "... opportunities exist for deepening and extending the democratic opening made possible by the election of May 15, 2005."


Unfortunately, the TPLF/EPRDF is reported to have rejected the call of the oppositions to form a unity government. As a party that was set out to liberate Tigray from Ethiopia, the TPLF used prisoners of war to form what it calls the People's Democratic Organizations (PDOs). That was its first step that set in motion TPLF's illegitimacy as far as any claim by it that it is a defender of the rights of other peoples in Ethiopia is concerned.


Its second step of illegitimacy was marked when it changed its agenda from liberating Tigray to taking power in Ethiopia by creating the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which is composed of the TPLF at the core and a constellation of PDOs as its shield.


After it controlled the country's political machinery in Finfinne, it pushed to the side legitimate other peoples' political organizations such as the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the All Amhara People Organization (AAPO). It then went into the 1992 legislative elections in which it practically competed against itself and won. That was illegitimate election and victory.


Meles Zenawi, chairman of the TPLF then and up to now, appointed the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE). That makes it a partisan election board. This election board is at the center of the three elections and have contributed for Meles' reign in Ethiopia for fourteen years now; it is almost certain that he will rule the country for the next five years.


Immediately following the 2005 elections, Meles ordered a ban on any public demonstration for one full month in the capital, which was later extended for another month. A few weeks after the elections, its armed force shot and killed over forty protesters. One of UEDF's parliament-elect was gunned down by the government police. Although the NEBE's preliminary results showed that the two main oppositions won over 183 seats in the parliament, the confirmed results show that their combined seats is short of that number by 12. According to the constitution, this number is one of the critical milestones to reach for the oppositions to make meaningful democratic contribution in the next five years, because it gives them the power to block any legislation. 


Yet, although the oppositions were the forerunners in calling for the investigations of vote irregularities, the EPRDF became the winner in having greater number of election reruns. It would be only the TPLF/EPRDF that knows better than any party else if it is fighting to have the number of the oppositions below this critical number so that it can pass any legislation freely during the next five years or not.


With all their shortcomings, the oppositions have won nearly a third of the seats in the Federal parliament. In other words, what this tells is that about a third of the constituencies in the country are not represented by the TPLF even if we were to think that the elections were free and fair. 


It would be foolhardy to have us believe that the TPLF/EPRDF put democracy before its partisan interests. It is rather the combined pressure from the Oromo and other peoples political movements of a long time, as well as from the various international communities that forced the TPLF/EPRDF to take a measured step in opening up the political space to the oppositions. In Meles' own admission, they took a calculated risk. It now appears that they undercalculated the risk and would like the oppositions to take the toll of the miscalculation.  


In the face of all the illegitimacies and frauds of the past, neither the TPLF nor Meles Zenawi have the moral high ground to refuse the call for a Unity Government. As a matter of fact, strictly speaking, both the TPLF and Meles should not be ruling Ethiopia today. However, as the letter of the oppositions notes carefully, the TPLF/EPRDF party "... seems to be determined to retain power by all means ..." and it is necessary for them to avert any violence that will have serious repercussions.


How this initial response of the TPLF/EPRDF materializes at the end of the day will give all parties interested in the political developments in Ethiopia an opportunity to show its true intensions. If it allows itself to open the space in the executive branch of government both at the federal as well as the regional levels, this may be an opportunity for this party to demonstrate that its intentions over the the past fourteen years have been to cultivate democracy in Ethiopia. That would be the first step for this party to buy some level of confidence from the populace.


However, if it rejects this call, we may keep wondering about some allegations that what the TPLF has been doing for the last fourteen years in Finfinne was an extension of its fights in the jungle for the prior seventeen years. The difference would be that this time, it may have been doing it out of the city with, partly, the financing of the international community.


TPLF's choice of accepting or not accepting the oppositions' call to form a Unity Government is going to shape the course of the next five years. Either choice may not be its best option. Not accepting could well be its worst choice.