Professor Beyene Petros is the president of the Ethiopian Federal Democratic Unity Forum (Medrek), one of the main opposition political parties contesting seats in the current elections. Originally, Beyene was president of the Ethiopian Social Democrat (ESD) party which later merged with the South Ethiopian Unity party (SEUP) to form ESD-SEUP which, in turn, is part of Medrek. Beyene is also a biology professor at the Addis Ababa University Faculty of Science. Neamin Ashenafi of The Reporter sat down with him in his office situated on the 8th floor of Popolare building. Professor Beyene reflects his party’s view on the results of the general election which took place last Sunday and also about an independent inquiry body which Medrek wants to be established. Excerpts:
The Reporter: How do you describe the whole electoral process? And what is the reaction of your party, the Ethiopian Federal Democratic Unity Forum (Medrek), regarding the preliminary results revealed by the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia?
Professor Beyene Petros: First of all, I want to say out in the open that there was no election in Ethiopia; the election that was held on Sunday was not conducted on the rules the basis of regulations and procedures enshrined in the constitution and electoral law of the country. Prerequisite for an election is availability of various options to choose from. But in the Ethiopian case, all the options were suppressed and controlled by the ruling party; therefore it’s very hard to say that the country had conducted an election.
The whole process prior to the voting day was full of challenges and hurdles. We need to pass through a lot to reach the polling day; the challenges started from the beginning of the election of public observers where many cadres of the ruling party passed as elected public observer.
Another problem was that though the party has registered some 303 candidates to contest for the parliamentary election, the board recognized only 270 of the candidates we fielded. Regarding this, we posed a series of questions to the board. However, the board didn’t reply to any of our questions properly. Reaching our supporters was also another challenge in a condition where many of our supporters and members were detained in different parts of the country.
Every Election has a series of steps to follow prior to the final day of voting. In this regard, my party has paid a lot in every step prior to the voting day during this election. In general it is very hard to say that an election was conducted in the country.
The failure of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) to undertake its activity was also another big challenge. We were able to present evidence that there were persons who have taken more than one voter cards. However, the board didn’t reply to our questions. It is so resistant to change, and it is clear that it receives an order from the ruling party.
Whenever we tried to submit our challenges and hurdles to the Board via different mechanisms the Board was not there and was creating various mechanisms to delay them. Our complaints in some areas were not received because the election officers were not available. The officials of the Board were not cooperative to solve our issues for example regarding candidates’ registration, which resulted in greatly reducing the number of our candidates we took into the election.
Our campaign posters were removed and replaced by the ruling party’s posters in many parts of the country. We spend a large amount of money to prepare the posters but we were not able to post them properly and everywhere you go you just come across posters of the ruling party, which is ridiculous.
Election is a judgment of the citizenry. The people should choose their own ruler and that is why it is considered as something sacred. However, the process of this election was far from the rules, procedures and accepted norms of elections across the world.
We don’t have any hidden agenda our main goal was to prove it is possible that Ethiopians can change their own government, and also if we won to lead the public. But, the situation on the ground is so tight that it completely denies any body of such opportunities.
Make no mistake about it. The ruling party is so complex that it introduces new and modern ways of manipulation every day which impacts not only the citizenry but also the international community. We are under a feudal and a dictatorial system. This group is so sharp that it is bringing a modern way of manipulation each time. For me, this election is just another tool of manipulation.
They want the election not for its basic values, but for public relation purposes. They want it to show to the international community and donors that the country is conducting a periodic election and that it is democratic. Therefore, this election is also part of the public relation campaign of the ruling party; it is a drama by the ruling party to convince the international community.
Basically, this election was not an election. It is rather a drama and the drama was controlled by the command post of the so called “Special Forces” which terrorized the public in different parts of the country. The process was not led by the Board, but by the security and the Special Forces.
You just mentioned challenges and hurdles that the party had faced during the election and on the day of voting; considering all the problems that you had faced so far, what is your (Medrek’s) next move?
We just proved to the public that the ruling party is not willing to allow free, fair and periodic election because that is a concept that does not go well with them. The concept is inherently at odds with the ruling party. Competing with other political parties is not on the agenda of the ruling party. Personally, as president of Medrek, before the election, I was thinking that there might be some shortcomings from our own side in reaching the public. However, we have made efforts to address this issue but to no use; the result didn’t change.
The public is denied the basic right to choose its own leaders and this mainly happened due to the basic nature of the ruling party. And, therefore, what is left is for the public to defend its rights peacefully.
The public should start to say no to the irregularities of the election and force the government to respect the vote of the public and hold a frank discussion with the opposition parties to conduct a credible election without any chaos and conflict. This should be the next step.
Given the characteristics of the ruling party, this process is subject to paying a high price. However, we should be ready to pay the price. If Medrek is to stay in the struggle, it should work strongly to mobilize the citizens to bring about change to the country. We need to transform the struggle into a new stage as engaging in an election again where the ruling party controls the field is a joke.
You were a member of the parliament for three successive terms. However, you lost your seat first time in 2010 and, according to your recollection, you are not likely to recover the seats as result of this election. So, do you say it is the time for you to retire?
I may not run for election after this but at least I have established a party and am striving to bring change in the country and try to implement my vision. I cannot simply abandon politics; I will stay in contact with my party either as a counselor or as a leader. I just want to be a role model for the youth.
I entered the race (the election) both last and this year round just to encourage others especially the youths because one of the techniques that the ruling party applies is to create confusions among the society portraying experienced politicians like myself as if we got tired and left the game. Therefore, I may not run.
Citing irregularities before, during and after the election, your party ,Medrek has called for the establishment of an independent enquiry to investigate the irregularities. If such an independent body were to be established, can you specify your vision for it the composition and what you expect from this body?
First of all, we are saying that the ruling party has committed a crime by putting itself above the law. This is an allegation subject to verification and it should be examined thoroughly and checked if it has any merit.
And this should be done by people who have the capacity to undertake such activities, possibly people with legal and other professional backgrounds. The composition will be selected from individuals who are not affiliated both to Medrek or the ruling party, who can assess the allegations independently.
And if this independent body finds out that there is no such violation, we will say we are sorry and abandon our case. However, in our understanding, there were violations of constitutional and electoral procedures.
You did not cast your vote in your usual constituency and I doubt if you have voted altogether. Apart from you, two senior leaders of the party did not cast their vote too. Why is this happening? And, at the same time, don’t you think this would discourage and frustrates your support base in your constituency?
Each of us has different reasons why we could not cast our votes on polling day. For example, I did have my voter card and could have voted if I wanted to. But, at the same time, since I am the leader of the party, I had to stayed at the center to supervise a number of tasks that had to be completed. So, I made the decision not to go to my constituency on polling day and instead stay at the center.
I have received so much information from my constituency starting with the voting process itself. Based on the information I received, I said to my contacts that the election was over, and that I don’t need to go there.
The Reporter was at your constituency to observe the election; and while we were there, we visited so many constituencies in your area, including your birthplace-Hanburssa. Furthermore, we communicated with your representative in the area, including other party’s like Blue’s, CUD’s and the ruling party’s. According to the testimony of Adane Germamo, there were no major irregularities observed in your constituency. But, now you are telling me another story. How does that add up?
The constituency where you have made the visit is an area where my tribe is living. Therefore, in the area, the balance of power is tilted towards to me. Apparently, that representative that you talked to is also the resident of the area and hence might not be that exposed to harassment. It would be hard to harass him because he is protected by the community. However, there were so many misconducts in other constituencies away from mine. The situation was so mixed and complex and was hard to present. The ruling party uses different techniques to harass our representatives.