Few points on the first round election 2010 debate:
Even Medrek, the last hope of the ‘boycott’ group, seems drawn into the election debate. For those who are lobbying boycott without any alternative strategy at all, Medrek seems fastly slipping out of their hands. If Medrek is participating in the debates, it is more likely to participate in the coming election. Thus, like during the 2005 election, the ‘boycott’ camp is losing ground and seems fighting a losing battle.
2. On AEUP: For those with a reasonable mind, what made the then Kinijit vibrant, electable and likable by the public was the superb organizational structure of AEUP and UEDP-Medhin that was put in place well before the election. In short, the strength and consequent success of the then Kinijit was by and large dependent on the actual strength of these two parties.
As one of the two parties which was the pillar of the then Kinijit and as the signatory to the recent election Code of Conduct, I expected AEUP to show leadership by using this window of opportunity to rally the public behind it. AEUP will certainly lose the opportunity to reach to the wider audience if it stays away from the subsequent debates for what ever reason. I hope AEUP will be a party in the next round of debates.
3. On EPRDF: Looking at the manner the debate was conducted, it seems to me that EPRDF is a party that has no seasoned and wise advisors who can help the party read the public mood and feeling. Of course EPRDF representatives were arguing that they have learned much from election 2005, have started listening to the people since then (by the way an implicit admission that EPRDF was not listening to the public before the May 2005 election!) and democracy is taking root in Ethiopia under EPRDF. That is fine and there were enough humbleness contrary to the extreme arrogance EPRDF used to display. The presentation was much better than 2005 which shows EPRDF’s preparation in terms of content.
However, while the debates in 2005 were lively, open, organized by different independent interest groups and were transmitted live on TV and Radio, this debate was tense, filled with procedural stiffness, devoid of any life and very controlled.
Second it exposed the shear incompetence of EPRDF advisors. Why did EPRDF need the lion’s share of the debate time? What is the justification? How would this naked unfairness be taken by the ultimate voters? After all is election not about winning the hearts and minds of voters?
EPRDF always has the Ethiopian TV, Radio and its various party organs at its disposal 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Thus the party can say anything it likes at any time. This is a public truth. By taking the lion’s share of the time, the adverse image EPRDF projected is that the party is still unfair and unwilling to stand on level field with the opposition. There is no doubt that this won’t be a strategy to win voters or the sympathy of voters. If EPRDF paid advisers can not advise the negative implications of such a naked unfairness in the eyes of the voters, what are EPRDF advisers paid for?
If this first debate shows anything at all, it clearly shows that EPRDF is still out of touch, out of reality, unrelated and unconnected with the majority of the voters. On this evidence, for EPRDF to win the hearts and minds the voters, the party’s advisors have a lot hard work to do. Some sort of humbleness could have gone a long way of conveying EPDRF’s message than the empty rhetoric by the EPRDF representatives in those long minutes!
4. On the Opposition: Apart from Ato Ayele Chamiso of ‘CUD’, every other opposition representatives used their 8 minutes each time slot reasonably well. Ato Ayele Chamiso was less than impressive. Next time he needs better preparation to be listened and win votes.
I would like to single out two points from the opposition’s discussion for further scrutiny. The first one is the critics against Medrek by EDP and EPRDF that how Medrek would realistically govern Ethiopia if it wins the next election without an election manifesto; just only with a minimum programme. To start with, the parties are diverse from ethnic based organizations to a multi national party that opposes ethnic based political structure. Election manifesto is a sort of contract between the voters and a party which they elect. Medrek’s approach appears that, if you elect me, I will think about what to do with the power afterwards.
Of course, we expect and should encourage voters to look at the parties’ political, economical and social programme when voting. A minimum programme can not substitute this. How is Medrek going to solve this anomaly? This is a question we all need to ask Medrek to address it adequately.
Second, Ethiopia’s current predicament and EPRDF’s inherent shortcoming was raised as a generational problem by Ato Lidetu of EDP. The generational problem was explained as the deep held political belief of those people who were fervently following the dogma of Marxism during the Ethiopian student movement era from EPLF to OLF, from TPLF to EPRP, from Medrek to Meison, etc. Their political philosophy is largely based on elimination of an opponent. Tolerance, compromise, respect to an opposing view, living side by side with an opponent is not in their dictionary.
Ato Lidetu argued that these people are on the driving seats of EPRDF and the Opposition leadership since the 60’s. Hence, there is a pressing need for all political parties to involve the younger generation including at leadership position. If not, the younger generation which is by the way the majority of voters, need to stand up and be counted by standing against the politics of mutual annihilation and destruction. I think the merit and demerit of Ato Lidetu’s assertion does warrant a critical discussion on the topic.
5. Conclusion: With all the shortcomings of the election debates, it is imperative that the Opposition use the window of opportunity to reach to the wider voter. The May/05 election was far from being a fair and free election. Yet history was made out of the little window of opportunity during the May/05 election.
With a little bit of focus, sound organisation, political savvy, pragmatism and hope from the opposition and the voters, there is no reason why better things should not come out of this election. Even though the historic 2005 election ended in disaster, I would like to believe that it has thought all of us a great lesson, including the ruling party that the people know that they have the power.
Hence, it is important to register and vote the party one supports. Now the dice is moving and the ‘boycott’ group will have very little influence to persuade the opposition as well the public to boycott the election!