To hold truly competitive elections in 2020, Ethiopia may need to repeal certain oppressive laws and stop the EPRDF from siphoning off state resources to distribute to its supporters in exchange for power.
By (The Washington Post) |
After a year of political upheaval and mass protests, Ethiopia’s autocratic government has been suggesting that it might be willing to transform its elections-for-show into elections that are genuinely free and fair. Within the past year, the government has freed its political prisoners. Its prime minister resigned. The ruling coalition held its first-ever contested elections to replace him — and selected the protesters’ choice of Abiy Ahmed, the first time that a prime minister had come from the Oromo ethnic group.
In July, while visiting Washington, Abiy told a group of thousands of expatriate Ethiopian dissidents that his “ultimate goal is to ensure that a democratic election takes place in Ethiopia.”
But many obstacles block that path. Here’s what has to happen before Ethiopia can hold a truly democratic election.
The Ethiopian government has been working against free and fair elections for a long time
In the early 1990s, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) overthrew the communist military regime — and has kept itself in power since. A coalition of several ethnic groups that was controlled by the ethnic minority Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the EPRDF party has stunted political opposition by jailing dissidents, coercing citizens into joining the party and reportedly committing electoral fraud. Its regular elections thus have not shaken its widespread reputation as an authoritarian state.
To hold truly competitive elections in 2020, Ethiopia may need to repeal certain oppressive laws and stop the EPRDF from siphoning off state resources to distribute to its supporters in exchange for power. At the same time, the coalition party must manage hard-liners within the coalition to prevent them from undermining efforts at democracy, as suggested by political scientist Milan Svolik’s work on authoritarian governance.
1. Laws limiting free association and free speech
In 2005, after the EPRDF liberalized the country’s political landscape, two opposition coalitions won an unprecedented number of seats, together gaining about a quarter of the seats in the national Parliament. Although the EPRDF remained in power, it cracked down again. The government detained opposition politicians and sent security forces to fire on protesters. Further, it passed laws that criminalized dissent and changed the country’s electoral system to give itself more likely seats.
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