Ethiopia’s Pre-Election Frenzy: Crackdown on Opposition Continues

By J. Sirak, Opride Contributor

Ethiopia – With Ethiopia’s Parliamentary election just months away, pre-election frenzy heats up. The ruling party is waging an all-out intimidation campaign against the opposition. In a grim tale of things to come, Jason McClure of Bloomberg News reports, “an opposition candidate was stabbed to death by six unidentified men”.
The last three weeks of the election campaign has particularly been very hectic for Meles and his ruling cliques.

Last week, Opride reported, the announcement of the opposition to unseat top TPLF bureaucrats, including Meles Zenawi, has created a major sensation forcing the regime to be on the defensive. Now it is clear that the defensive campaign strategy has backfired very badly. On the celebration of the 35th anniversary of the founding of TPLF in Mekele, Meles made a speech aimed at obliterating the image and credibility of his Tigrean opponents.

During the speech, reportedly he made two major and apparent mistakes. a) In an attempt to appeal to Tigrean nationalism, he made the outdated claim that he has brought democracy not only to the “golden” people, but also the rest of the country whom he compared to “chaffs”—a reference to non Tigrayans. This ultra-chauvinistic and un-statesmanlike statement shocked the “chaffs” within his party.

b) The worst backslash came from Meles Zenawi’s childish attack on Seeye and other former TPLF cadres whom he called “leftovers”. Even those who sided with Meles to oust Seeye have tremendous respect for their former gallant commander, and Meles’s assault on their character was immediately denounced by the majority of the Tigrean media with Yemane Negash of The Reporter taking the lead.

Mr. Meles made that speech with a clear intent to foment hostility and violence against the opposition. He was successful in that regard. The report of six pro-government militias stabbing to death of  a Tigrean opposition MP candidate yesterday might be directly attributed to this speech.. This will undoubtedly make the backlash worse for the ruling party. A well connected Tigrean journalist told this reporter that, the Tigrean people are very nervous about the heightened intra-Tigray tension. Unless Meles restrains himself, another split within TPLF ranks and the larger Tigrean intelligentsia might be coming.

Meles Zenawi’s Diversionary Tactics

In attempt to divert attention from the formidable challenge he is facing at his political base, Meles has been taking several steps.

1) He recently made an abrupt announcement that Mr. Abbadula Gemeda, President of Oromia Region, will move to the federal government. The decision was presented as controversial and the Oromo People Democratic Organization (OPDO’s) Executive Committee in its emergency meeting rejected the decision.

The Central Committee was forced to reconvene and debate, whereby Meles infiltrators trade allegations and accusation about certain factions conspiracy to unseat the president.  The irony is that Mr. Abbadula has in recent months been seen as a liability to the ruling party after he was forced to give up his mansion and was publicly humiliated by younger OPDO’s.  It is said that there is a consensus among top TPLF leaders to get rid of Abadula others with bad public image. Yet, since Meles does not like to replace such a loyal surrogate, he had to create a justification. Apparently  in anticipation of the vacant seat, there has an intense backdoor dealing and completion between OPDO factions as who should replace the departing president. Yet there was no consensus.  Hence a popular demand was created for Mr. Abbadula to remain as President allegedly to prevent a factional fight that broke out among reformists within OPDO.

2) Another diversionary tactic is the abrupt decision of two Forum member parties pulling out of the coalition.

Sources with inside information say this could be either because the leaders of the two parties were pressured and co-opted or were infiltrators from the start. This is evident because the two parties (The Ethiopian Democratic Unity Movement (EDUM) and the Somali Democratic Forces Coalition (SDFC)) did not file any formal complaint with the coalition prior to this week. Furthermore, their decision to blame a single member party (UDJ)  which is seen as a stronger element in the coalition is yet another sign of foul play by the dictatorial regime.

They squarely put the blame on the UDJ party for refusing to allow them to compete in Addis Ababa. The accusation seem to be baseless given the fact that UDJ is the only party with strong support and institutional infrastructure to win the capital, and the two parties, particularly the (SDFC), has a very small constituency in the city. The central agreement between Medrek coalition members was to increase collective aggregate gains of the opposition. As such, their complaint seems unreasonable. The ruling party might be using its assets within Medrek to foment crisis in order to force UDJ/ ARENA to back off from their aggressive campaigning in Tigray in order to concentrate in preventing Medrek from falling apart. That will buy the ruling party time to wage an intimidation campaign. For instance, following the announcement of withdrawal by the two parties, Mr. Seeye Abraha, the Chief strategist of Medrek, was forced to return to Addis from Tembein where he was campaigning door to door.

3) The supposedly independent and impartial electoral commission has become an embarrassment to the regime.

The commission claimed to have investigated the complaint by the Oromo People Congress that 153 of its members were arrested. Yesterday, the commissioned dismissed the complaint. Although the decision was anticipated, what shocked observers was that the representative of the commission presented an exactly the same report, word for word, as that was presented by the police three weeks. The announcer, former secret service personnel seem to have confused his new role with the old one.

In related news, TPLF is increasingly under pressure to hold onto important seats in the parliament.

a) Tsegaye Berhe, President of Tigray Region, decided not to contest in the upcoming election as he was facing a formidable opponent from Arena.

b) All Top officials of the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM) except Addisu Legesse seem to have been discarded by Meles. Tefera Walwa, Bereket Simon and Hilawi Yoseph, the three top veterans of EPDM/ANDM, are not contesting in 2010 election. It was to be remembered that, after top Amhara generals were accused of Coup D’état, ANDM is practically dismantled and its leaders are closely watched.

As things heat up, the opposition needs to remain on the offensive. They must increase their pressure particularly by targeting incumbent seats of key TPLF leaders. This will have a major psychological impact by making the rulers nervous and shaking their foundation.

* Oromsis Adula Edited this Report.

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