By Jawar Mohammed*
Let us pretend tomorrow’s election will be free, fair and competitive. What then could the numbers tell us about political participation, party strength, possibility of victory and etc.
According to the official statistics, out of more than 32 million registered eligible voters, 47.8 % are female. There are about 41, 493 polling stations across the country, out of which 37.2% are located in Oromia, Ethiopia’s most populous and largest regional state. Some sixty-three parties competed in the election by fielding a total of 2,205 candidates for a seat in the House of People’s Representative and 4,734 candidates for regional council parliament.
The incumbent Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) is competing for every single seat both in the federal and regional parliament. The EPRDF through its allied partners fielded 501 candidates. The remaining 46 slots are fielded by “affiliated’ regional parties The EPRDF is closely followed Forum, a coalition of eight multi-ethnic parties, which has 421 candidates competing. The All Ethiopia Unity Organization (AEUO) has brought in 319 candidates while Ethiopian Democratic Party (EDP) follows with 230.
* OPDO – Oromo People’s Democratic Organization – 178 Candidates
* ANDM – Amhara National Democratic Movement – 137 candidates
* SEPDM – Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement – 123 candidates
* TPLF – Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front – 38 candidates
* Fielded under EPRDF – Dire Dawa – 1 candidate, Finfinne – 23 candidates
According to the country’s “constitution”, two-hundred seventy-four seats are needed form a government. As such; for Forum, better known as Medrek, to win the election and form a government 65% of its 421 candidates needs to win their respective seats. For others like the AEUO the threshold is even higher, at 86% winning stretch. EDP will not be able to form a government alone even if the party wins 100% of seats contested. While sufficient data is not available to see the uncontested seats, the ruling party seems to have over 100 free seats.
As I was crunching through the numbers, I could not help but notice the shocking under representation of women candidates. Women make up for only about 11.7% (257) of the total (2,205) candidates running for federal parliament. That share is slightly higher for regional council seats at 15% (711) out of 4,734.
Far more depressing is the almost inexistent representation of women in the opposition parties. While 28.7% of the ruling party’s candidates are female, for the three largest opposition parties (Forum, AEUO, and EDP) in average, women make up only about 4.0%. Forum has 15 female candidates, while AEUO and EDP have 11 apiece. The outgoing parliament had 116 (21.2 %) women. 32% EPRDF’s outgoing parliamentarians are female.
Possible Obstacles For Under Representation of Women:
- One theory is that the political climate is both too harsh and dangerous for women. But there is a powerful counter argument. During the armed struggle, women fighters made up 10-30% of rebel forces. Is running for office under repressive regime more difficult that fighting with arms in those unforgiving deserts? More research is needed.
- Political parties lack an attractive platform, organizational model and strategic approach to bring women on board. Knowing what specific policies, models and strategies that attract women need to a systematic and creative research and I believe one of the biggest challenges for the opposition in the coming years is figuring that out.
- Compared to the opposition, the ruling party has disproportionally higher representation of women. Why so? Is it easier? Is the job opportunity and higher possibility of winning the election more attractive? Again, we need more research.
While election results would be the preferred indicators for electability of political parties and their platform among certain demographics, as the results would undoubtedly be questionable, the number of candidates a given party fields in particular region might serve as gauge of their strategic thinking and attractiveness of their programs.Multinational Parties: We have heard repeated claims that multinational (none-ethnic) platform is a much better strategy to mobilize voters from all corners of the country. The numbers and ways each party field candidates does not support that claim. Let us take the two biggest “multi-national” parties and test their support and ethnic affiliation.
Table 2- shows the number of candidates by same TRIO for Regional Council Seats:
Let us compare the Forum with the other two parties, AEUO and EDP. It is clearly visible that except in the Amhara region, these “multinational” parties have significantly lower number of candidates. This could be because those parties and their platform are attracting proportionally less number of candidates willing to run under their banner.
However, when we look at the Amhara region, we observe that Hailu Shawul’s AEUO is competing for almost every single seat both at the federal and regional level. EDP is also doing better in Amhara region than any of the remaining three regions.
As much as these parties claim and try to be appear as all inclusive and representative as possible, their message might not be strongly competing against ethnic parties. When the data becomes available, we should also see the ethnic backgrounds of those who now signed up under the “multinational” banner and running outside of the Amhara region.
It is also important to note that the Amhara region is where Forum is having the lowest percentage of candidates. Hence, FORUM member UDJ might not be garnering enough support up in the north (or the party is too young to have the grassroots network that AEUO and EDP commands). Nevertheless, after carefully assessing the election results, Forum may have to bring both or one of two parties on board.
Is The Federal Parliament More Attractive Than the Regional Councils?
Notice that each party was able to field more candidates (percentage wise) for the seats in the House of People’s Representatives than that of regional councils. Could this be because?
a. Candidates are more interested in federal parliament. The federal office offers more privilege (income, access, protection, influence and lifted profile) than regional councils.
b. Parties are more interested in candidates for the federal parliament. This could be because they want to induce top down change and reform by trying to capture the federal power.
c. Parties and candidates believe that regional councils are more useless than federal parliament. As long as the incumbent controls the federal government, the opposition might feel that even if they win majority at regional council, they won’t have real power (remember CUD’s refusal to take Finfinne?)
d. Some parties (EDP particularly) assume that the likelihood of winning the regional council is slim and even if some of their members got elected, they will not influence regional matters. Hence, they prefer to concentrate on gaining federal seats where accumulated vote from every region matters the most.
Finally, the point of compiling these numbers is to encourage more research so that we might be able to change the boring face of Ethiopian elections. The opposition need to be able to compete for every single vote and at all levels. As this will require broadening their outreach, and strengthening their organizational capacity at the grassroots level.
If the opposition is to emerge as a strong contender in the next election, the capacity building work must start today. As we wait for these predetermined results, we should start thinking strategically, and the key to any winning strategy is actionable information. I urge everyone to gather and systematically analyze every available data, statements, actions and event
- Ethiopia to Vote for New Parliament Sunday – Voice of America
- Video: Ethiopian polls open – Al Jazeera
* Jawar S. Mohammed writes a regular political commentary on Ethiopian Politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His articles can be accessed at www.dhummuugaa.wordpress.com