Was the Civil Unrest about Overtaking the Government or about Vote Rigging?


The disputes between the TPLF/EPRDF government and the opposition party called Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) about the May 15, 2005, legislative elections have reportedly caused 29 deaths and many more injuries. The fact that the TPLF/EPRDF party rigged the elections is not in dispute. The loss of so many lives can not be underestimated. The important questions that must be asked are who should be responsible? Is it the TPLF/EPRDF government or the CUD or both?


We can leave to the lawyers the professional investigation of this to find out how much each of the parties is responsible. However, little common sense observation should point to the failures of the parties in dispute. The fundamental problem was election rigging by the TPLF/EPRDF for which it should be only this party that should be held accountable. Its armed forces who fired at the demonstrators also should be held accountable. CUD's accountability for calling the demonstrations in the city such was banned should not be overlooked as well. Whether the banning of the demonstrations was lawful or not is another thing.


In this dispute, CUD and the other opposition party called the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF) can be considered the plaintiffs and the TPLF/EPRDF the defendant. Granted that this is the case, the first logical question is are the oppositions willing to accept the NEBE as the party that is in a position to solve the case? If so, given that each of the opposition parties has a list of complaints, has the NEBE showed willingness to investigate the complaints? If these have been achieved, logic dictates that the oppositions would wait for the legal process to take its course and come to a conclusion before any call for civil unrest. The fact that CUD has been calling on the general populace to be psychologically prepared for any eventualities of civil unrest is beyond doubt and its effort now to distance itself from it is shameless and disservice to its constituents.


Granted that CUD has been calling for civil unrest, the party’s statements before it are in public domain, what would be achieved by encouraging such activities? Was it to pressure the NEBE to investigate as many complaints as the opposition parties would like? How much sacrifice was CUD willing to accept to profit from the maximization of the number of investigations?


Such political sacrifice by breaking the law of the country they are planning to serve, CUD must have had certain milestones in the number of the parliamentary seats it wins to influence future political directions in the future. The two important milestones are the one-third and majority marks for blocking legislations and for overtaking the government, respectively. As it stands now, the two oppositions have apparently more than a third of the legislative seats, which means no policy shall be made in the next five years without the consent of the oppositions. That is to say the major milestone has been reached. The next milestone is to reach the majority mark to take over the government. Would the civil unrest enable the oppositions to reach that mark? What was CUD’s appraisal of the costs and benefits of this civil unrest on both the plaintiffs and the defendants, when compared to allowing the legal process to take its course? How much does that reflect CUD’s ability to govern the next government should it overtake the government structure?


If, on the other hand, CUD was calling for civil unrest to have a neutral party instead of NEBE to investigate its complaints, what was its vision of how it should be formed? Should it come from the U.N.? The U.S.? The E.U.? The A.U.? How would this work? Is there some experience of this sort elsewhere? How does the vision or the lack thereof of CUD leadership about this process again reflect on the capability CUD's leaders to lead the country if they overtake the government structure at this time?


In the final analysis, the encouragement of the civil unrest by CUD when the doors of the legal process were not closed to it by NEBE boils down to the quest for overtaking the next government at any cost. It has even more hidden reason, perhaps the driving reason, to overtake the government now. The Oromo Liberatio Front (OLF), the strongest party that has been fighting the TPLF/EPRDF government for years did not participate in the elections in Oromia National State, which has the largest number of seats for the federal parliament. The State is one of the most suppressed ones by the TPLF in its entire rule in Ethiopia and the recent elections in it were what the Human Rights Report called hollow exercise. CUD's political position is in direct collusion with that of the OLF in many ways. Therefore, perhaps, CUD may have seen this as the best opportunity to come to power to and get muscles to flex against some of the important policies of the OLF. In this quest, it has come to a possible gridlock between the OLF and the current administration of Oromia the can probably invoke Article 39 should CUD overtake the government through violent means.


The political reality on the ground give both the TPLF/EPRDF’s influence outside Tigray and CUD’s quest for overtaking government two options. It gives the former to die today or stay in its deathbed for the next five years. With all the sticks in its hands, the TPLF doesn’t seem to be that foolish to make a better decision for itself. CUD has the option of forcing death onto the TPLF’s influence today, a costly political adventure, or let it die a natural death in five years, as someone noted elsewhere. The choices both make are bound to reflect not so much what they can or can not do today, but their vision for the country and the peoples they are laboring to serve, as they would have us and those CUD is instigating for the civil unrest have believe.


Winston Churchill is noted to have said something to the effect that all peoples and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all the other alternatives. One might guess that the leaders on both sides are on the course of exhausting all the other alternatives for us, save wisdom. Of course, if we were to forget any election for the post of the prime minister and instead create a competent neutral body to hire a capable citizen to do the job of the premier according to the job description in the constitution, it would save many groups including the foreign observers and millions of voters a lot of headache. In that case, neither Meles Zenawi nor Hailu Shawul might win the competition.