The year 2012 (Eth Calendar) has been an eventful one for Ethiopia in general, and Tigray in particular. It has been a year that dashed the hopes of millions for a democratic transition. Against all hopes, a big chunk of the country is now under a State of Emergency, the military taking over government functions. The rights of citizens to hold the government accountable have been indefinitely suspended. Those who attempted to exercise their rights have been encountered with guns, incarcerations, intimidation and defamation, and displacement. Constitutional maneuver was used to indefinitely postpone the national and regional elections.
Beyond the shared pains and sorrows, Tigray has been exposed to added challenges including multilevel sanctions and psychosocial stressors induced by war mongering drums from Abiy, Isayas and the Amhara elites. In the face of these layers of threats and challenges, the people of Tigray have remained united and persevered through to cast their votes and elect their regional parliamentarians.
While taking the necessary precautions to prevent COVID spread, our people have proudly demonstrated their will to defend their constitutional right for electing their leaders. Through their discipline and engagement, they have shown the Ethiopian people and the world of what is doable as opposed to the excuses contrived by Abiy to postpone the election. Through their vote, our people have attracted the international media coverage exposing Abiy’s animosity to the election in Tigray.
Now, the votes are casted; the votes are counted; and the winners are “declared”. Apparently, TPLF has replicated it’s 100% swipe of the last five elections. In all honesty, I was not naive to expect other than a big win for TPLF. However, I was very positive the contending parties could garner good number of votes to earn some seats from the urbanites and few more from the 20% proportional to their “wasted” votes.
To our dismay, and to the detriment of our crawling exercise, TPLF had over-reacted to a perceived threat from the contenders, particularly Sawet, and activated it’s standby party and government functionaries to smear them as renegades, traitors, and divisive. In multiple instances, our ordinary people were guided who to elect, not oriented how to vote. Many observers have stories to share, but have remained silent to avoid post-election ugly scenarios. Hopefully, to the benefit of our people and our democratic exercise, many will come forward to share their observations sooner.
For our people, the choice remains the same: picking the better evil, i.e. TPLF over Abiy’s PP. With this ugly truth as given, coupled with TPLF’s reactionary nature, I believe, the following factors are also contributors to the big win for TPLF:
1. Incumbent party. TPLF controls a big party and government infrastructure, ranging from a small organized group to giant resourceful establishments. It is also the face of all safety net programs to our subsistence communities. It is the face of all rationed commodities in the countryside. These are all powerful tools the incumbent has in place to influence the outcome.
2. Threat, insecurity, and trust. The year-long war drum from Abiy, the chronic animosity from Isayas, and the last five years of violence and threat by the Amhara elites have forced our people to side with TPLF and defend themselves against all real and perceived threats. These threats remain in place. TPLF has also proved itself it is a formidable force to undermine and launch any attack on our people. These common enemies have enabled a mutual bond between our people and the party in power. Hence, with the enemy still bullying and seeking to sandwich our people, it becomes natural for the electorate to trust and elect it’s proven security guarantor, TPLF.
3. Resources and experience. The contending parties are so young that have come to existence the last one year. To our surprise, they have done spectacular job securing their party registration licenses, preparing a lot of party documents, recruiting as many members as they can, and getting ready for election within a short period of time, including debating an incumbent party in televised platforms. Recruiting members, reaching out to the public, and electoral campaign takes a lot of time and resources. As beginners as most of them are, they have limited experiences with election. This compounded by limited resources obviously puts them at a great disadvantage to compete with a resourceful, experienced, and an expansive network of party infrastructure.
4. Butter and bread. For many TPLF members controlling the government and party power hierarchy particularly at mid and lower levels, the office they hold is the source of their bread and butter. They have families to support like all of us. They have held these offices for years, and are the only means they have had to provide to their families. Any change that would break the “survival” of these niche is not going to be like shooting a needle into a butter. The entrenched resistance to change the status quo will take time and public awareness.
5. COVID-19. We all remember Tigray was the first region to declare State of Emergency and decree limitations to mobility and gatherings. This was a lot hurtful to the contending parties than TPLF. They couldn’t travel or call for public gatherings to sell their ideas, couldn’t meet and greet the electorate, couldn’t reach out to recruit members, etc. COVID has, therefore, been a big barrier for the contenders compared to the incumbent with a massive infrastructure and resources. COVID has also impacted the economy, thereby affecting the cost of living of the ordinary citizens. The unknown scenario in terms of it’s overall impact and when it will go away, and the ensuing economic challenge make the electorate anxious about their future. I would be surprised if many voters say, “you do not change horses in the middle of a river”!
Going forward, regardless of the many irregularities and deliberate political dirt, our people have defied the unconstitutional election postponement by Abiy and the Amhara elites. They have unanimously rejected the sinister political orchestration and economic sanctions to force them to submission. They have shown to the world that they stand in solidarity even in the face of many natural and man-made threats. While I understand we have a lot of outstanding internal issues to address, the significance of the completion of this election peacefully and in a very organized manner couldn’t be treasured enough. My hope is, all of us, including the public, the political parties, the electoral commission, and other stakeholders will have time to look back at what went right and wrong, and what could have been done to make it better. In light of the 100% “win” by TPLF, I hope the party leadership comes to it’s senses and amend the electoral legislation to exclude the majority winner from sharing the remaining 38 seats. This is the only tool we have left now to accommodate diversity of ideas and nurture democratic culture in the legislative body. Likewise, five years down from now, the contending parties have an opportunity to narrow down the differential advantages the incumbent party has, win the hearts and minds of the electorate, and build a capacity to compete, and monitor voting and counting at all polling stations.