IPI says Ethiopian election was not free and fair

By Naomi Hunt | International Press Institute (IPI)

Ethiopia’s electoral board said on Tuesday that the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and allied parties had won a Sunday election by a landslide.

European Union chief election observer Thijs Berman praised the polling for being peaceful and orderly, but noted that there was an “uneven playing field,” according to news reports.

[Meles Zenawi, head of Ethiopia’s ruling tribal junta, surrounded by heavy security at a victory rally in Addis Ababa, May 25, 2010 – Photo: Reuters]

The run-up to the vote, and the voting process itself, were characterised by the absence of a free, independent media.

Observers reported the harassment and intimidation both of voters and of journalists in the run-up to the election. The Ethiopian police, and an opposition party, said two opposition members had been shot dead by the police after the election, news reports said.

Against this backdrop, the International Press Institute (IPI) today called on any future government to relax its control of the media.

“No free and fair elections can be held in the absence of a vibrant and free media, whether it is in Ethiopia or elsewhere,” said Mesfin Negash, managing editor of Addis Neger, in an email to IPI. “Ethiopia failed miserably to have both: free and vibrant media, and therefore a free and fair election.”

He added: “Local independent media outlets and international correspondents in Ethiopia reported the election under serious pressure.” Referring to a “Code of Conduct for the Mass Media and Journalists” issued by the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) earlier this year, Negash said: “It prohibits interviewing voters within a 500-meter radius of a polling station. It was even prohibited to take a photo in polling stations … Just outrageous … Practically, however, we have seen that government journalists were transmitting live from within polling stations.”

Addis Neger, a popular independent weekly newspaper, decided to stop publishing in November 2009 after its editors and managers received a credible warning that they were to be targeted under anti-terrorism legislation.

In the months preceding the May elections, IPI called on the Ethiopian authorities to relax their stranglehold on the independent media, and condemned attempts by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s government to limit the flow of information to people in the country.

“IPI firmly believes that no election can be deemed free or fair if there is no robust and independent local media to report on alleged government abuses, cover opposition candidates, or report on corruption,” said IPI Director David Dadge. “The Ethiopian government must relinquish its somewhat obsessive desire to control the flow of information in the country.”

Following Ethiopia’s last round of parliamentary elections in 2005, dozens of journalists and opposition activists were jailed on fabricated charges, and several publications and civil society organizations were shut down.

Since then, the Ethiopian authorities have made every effort to manage the information presented in the press. Broadcast media are entirely state run and self-censorship is the norm amongst journalists for Ethiopian Television and Radio, according to IPI research.

Many of the print publications shut in 2005 remain closed. Local reporters continue to be arrested, harassed and intimidated, and since 2005, several foreign journalists have been detained or expelled from the country for covering sensitive issues. Recently, the government began jamming Voice of America shortwave broadcasts, which it compared to Radio Mille Collines, one of the stations involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

In March 2010, the Ethiopian Supreme Court ruled that four publishers had to pay exorbitant fines originally rendered void under a 2007 pardon. The publishing companies were shut during the media crackdown of 2005, and the editors and publishers were jailed on treason charges. Despite the fact that all were either pardoned or acquitted, the government continued to push for the fines.

Finally, a slew of repressive laws passed in the last two years ensure that journalists work in a climate of fear.

“Everything done by [government print and broadcast media] is highly controlled by party people assigned at every level of the production of news and commentaries,” said Negash, referring to the ruling EPRDF. “The private and independent media is also crippled… Internally, most of the independent newspapers lack the capacity to provide quality and influential information. Their circulation is very small and limited to the big cities.”

He noted: “The few with the potential to provide such quality information are tied up with their fear and economic interests. As a result, they are too shy and apologetic in dealing with major issues of democracy and freedom of speech.”

2 comments on “IPI says Ethiopian election was not free and fair

  1. ethiopian on

    we should give some credit to the observers at least for telling the truth.Good job guys you are unlike your leaders.

  2. NotBlam on

    I believe that if our leaders emancipate themselves from dogma prison, mine the only way trap and try to narrow their differences, agree to disagree on matters they have differences and pull together on those matters they agree on, align their followers and forces accordingly, then we may have a chance to take TPLF down soon.

    Otherwise we like it or not TPLF is smart and will use opportunities to divide us, what it calls its enemies and its supporters, the people. Who knows next just like it did with Ethio-Eritrea war, it may create confrontation with Sudan or Egypt citing Sudan’s claim on Ethiopian land or Water or Egypt’s sabotage on the use of Nile, or ONLF or OLF etc secessionist or terrorist makeup and the impending disintegration of Ethiopia.

    Yes, we have been discussing TPLF’s surrendering of Ethiopian lands. We have been observing that the Somalis and the Oromos in diasporas have been organizing opposition rallies against TPL (Woyane) dissociating themselves from other Ethiopian opposition rallies. Melese while discussing oppositions assisted by Eritrean he described them as “fire and straw”. We have been talking about the unfairness of the old colonial agreement on Nile water use.

    Well all these are arsenal stockpiles for Woyene and will us them as necessary unless all concerned try hard to spell these night mares. I understand that bringing armed and independence aspiring organizations like OLF, ONLF etc and “One Ethiopia the old way” is easier said than done. May be Eritrea could be an inspiration for independence seeking organizations. A situation like Somali land or a Rwanda genocide kind of situation can occur. The old way thinkers should think twice.

    Independence may not be possible or fruitful. No one wishes Rwanda’s experience for any one. I never expected Tamil Tigers would be annihilated like this. It may not be the best choice for the people as well as for the organizations.

    Woyane’s stay in power will only increase the misery of the people in the region and putting every energy our leaders have into emboldening peoples and their organizations differences rather than working together on their common goals would only help Wayne and extend the suffering of the people. Those who are trying the peaceful and diplomatic straggle let them go that way. Those who break the back bone of Woyane with arms let them also go that way. We should not undermine one another. Good to show where some one or some party may be wrong without calling names, cursing, or belittling. The future is uncertain and no one knows for sure which one will lead where at what cost. With honesty and with the best of our knowledge we try to do the best. Let us fight Woyane by all means together!!!!

    Down with Woyane

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