In May 24, 2015 Ethiopians will be going to the polling stations to cast their vote. According to the National Electoral Bored of Ethiopia, out of 43 million Ethiopians of voting age, 34.9 million have been registered to vote. In comparison with the previous national election, the ratio of registered voters to population under the voting age has increased to 81 percent from the 76 percent quotient during the 2010 election. This rise could be associated with the relentless door to door advocacy, some might call it nagging, by Kebele (lowest administrative unit in Ethiopia) officials to encourage voters to register.
The electoral process in general and the voters' registration in particular was not held without a problem. There was a lot of concerns raised by opposition groups on the overall electoral process. Among the complaints the election board independence from the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front control, the ruling party's monopoly of public media outlets and the transparency of voters and candidates' registrations procedure are few. In spite of all these challenges, a total of 6,000 parliamentary candidates from 58 different political parties across the country will be contesting to book a five-year tenure at the 548 sit parliament, the highest legislative body in the country.
No one has the illusion on whether or not the election in May is democratic or free. Many consider the election scheduled in less than two weeks' time nothing more than a formality to legitimize an autocratic government. The European Union which have sent one of the biggest Election Observe Missions (EOM) to the previous two national elections have already decided not to observe this balloting. According Ana Gomes, a European Parliament member who headed the European team that monitored the 2005 Ethiopian elections has said on her official twitter account "No EU EOM not for financial or budget reasons (as the government of Ethiopia claims) but because (the) elections will not be free and fair, as EU learnt in 2005 and 2010 elections."
It is a fact that what makes an elections democratic, free and fair is not just what happens during the Election Day or the few months leading up to it. It is rather the existence of an independent and functioning justice system, neutral police, free media, vibrant civil society and educated voters. Ethiopia miss the marks across all these parameters. The constraints placed on political parties and civil society organizations makes them weak and powerless to mainstream their objectives at a grass root levels. Over the past decade freedom of expression and freedom of information had deteriorated rather than improved in the country. Different reports by the United Nation and Human Rights Groups has reported several incidents of harassment and detention of political party leaders, journalists and even individual right activists and bloggers. According to Human Rights Watch, the government had a strategy to systematically close down space for political dissent and independent criticism.
In spite of all the obstacles, going through the election exercise is better than boycotting it, especially, in the absence of a united and strong opposition. If the country had a united and a strong opposition, the option of boycotting the election due to the lake of the basic requirements for free and fair election process would have been fruitful, because a united and strong opposition could then be in a position to mobilize the population to bring pressure on the government to liberalize the election process and if the government still refuses to do so, the opposition alliance could push for a popular uprising, like the Arab spring. In such scenario, the chances are that in fear of a popular revolution the government would have opted for the former instead of the later. Unfortunately, the opposition group is very fragmented and divided in ideological beliefs beyond all means to create one consolidated and strong opposition party. Therefore, going through with the election is the better idea.
A lot of people believe that their vote doesn't make a difference and that despite which candidate they vote for, the ruling party will win 99.9 per cent of the sit anyway. Although, it might seems all hopeless, there are few good reasons why we all should vote.
First and for most voting during election is the least patriotic thing we can do as a citizen. Citizens who are not willing to participate in the simplest process of casting their vote will not be prepared for other political activities that might require a greater sacrification than a couple of hours of their life. Particularly for young voters, election will give them the sense of power and that they matter in deciding the country's future. Also, it will demonstrate to the international community that the Ethiopian people are serious in its quest to democracy.
Second, a significant number of voter's favor to the opposition groups will send a strong message to the ruling party. Politicians know who votes each election, and they are more likely to support initiatives that are popular among groups with the highest voter turnout. The infrastructure renaissance of Addis Ababa since 2005 is a true testament of what a voter turnout can do.
Even if winning the election is a very least possibility, another important reason to vote is to put a considerable number of opposition leaders in the parliament. This will enable the opposition voice to be heard in the parliament more loudly than it has been during the past five years. The elected Member of Parliament will have significant influence on many important issues, including initiatives of great concern to the voters. It is also critical to note that almost all supporters of the ruling party are going to vote. Thus, refusal to vote by the opposition supporters will make it even much easier for EPRDF to keep their 99.6 percent win.
Finally, Voting is a way to honor those who are fighting to secure our rights. Opposition party leaders who endured harassments, several beatings and imprisonments; arrested activists and Civil Rights leaders are only a few examples of those to whom we owe our respect and appreciation. Voting gives you the opportunity to help pay that debt.
Therefore, regardless of what the election outcome might be, we need to get out there and Vote!