By Abebe Gelaw
Sep 16, 2005
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been dealt another blow as the Carter Centre has resonated many of the findings of the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU-EOM) on the May National Elections in Ethiopia. But the conclusion of the hard-hitting report appeared a bit patronising.
In a final statement it released yesterday, the Carter Centre, which deployed the second largest observation team across Ethiopia, highlighted a catalogue of unfair malpractices and irregularities committed by the ruling party. “While pre-election and election day processes were generally commendable, the post-election period was disappointing,” the statement said.
Even if it said that the election demonstrated “significant advances to the democratization process”, it indicated that the post-election period was marred by highly charged political tensions, protests, violence, large number of complaints and delays in vote count and tabulation. It referred to the electoral dispute resolution process set up by the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE), as “prolonged and problematic.”
The statement exposed the inadequacies and inefficiencies of the Complaints Review Boards (CRBs) and the Complaints Investigation Panels (CIPs) that were set up after opposition parties were pressurized to sign a tripartite agreement with the ruling party and NEBE. Being composed of representatives of the disputing political parties, the election dispute resolution mechanism was widely seen as aborted at its inception.
In a stinging attack on the failed mechanism, which ended up restoring lost sits for the ruling party, Carter pointed out that both the ‘review boards’ and the ‘investigation panels’ have failed to redress irregularities and flaws. “ In retrospect, the CRB/CIP process did not provide an adequate means for a fair resolution of all electoral disputes.”
The statement clearly indicated that there were serious issues of concern such as, “Inconsistencies in the application of rules for the admission of evidence and witnesses, credible reports of intimidation of witnesses, apparent partisanship on the part of NEBE presiding officers, intentional delays on the part of opposition parties and withdrawals from the process by the opposition parties, resulting in decisions being taken in their absence.”
According to the final statement, to be followed by a detailed final report, though the May 15th polling and tabulation appear credible and reflected the competitive nature of the elections, “ a considerable number of the constituency results based on the problematic CRB and CIP processes lack credibility.” It noted that the decisions of CRBs and CIPs should not be taken as final due to the fact that they were set up as ad hoc mechanisms to review elections complaints. “The prescribed legal recourse to challenge these decisions is via an appeal to the High Court,” it said.
Unlike the EU-EOM preliminary report, the Carter Centre fell short of placing an emphasis on the lack of independence of the judiciary. One of the most contentious issues that have taken centre stage during the pre and post election debates is still the role of Ato Kemal Bedri, who enjoys duplications of authority as Chairman of the NEBE, President of Council for Constitutional Inquiry and President of the Federal Supreme Court. “Election is a highly disputable political exercise. If the most senior judge in Ethiopia is caught up and involved in such politically charged disputes, it calls for his resignation from his position as President of the Federal Supreme Court and the reconstitution of the court to restore its impartiality and public confidence in the courts,” said ex-prisoner of conscience, Yehualshet Mekonen.
“Judges are normally supposed to resolve disputes legally and impartially. When Meles Zenawi appointed Chief Justice Kemal Bedri as chairman of the election board, it automatically gave the impression that the PM hired the President of the Supreme Court as his defence lawyer.
“As it turned out time and time again, the opposition had little chance of success in winning a case as the Federal Supreme Court, the highest court of appeal in Ethiopia, will continue overturning the decisions of the lower courts,” he said.
The press statement also confirmed that there was credible violence and intimidation against the opposition. “In the instances where claims of violence or intimidation were credible, our observers noted a climate in which candidates felt constrained to campaign and voters to choose without fear of repercussions.” It also described as “disturbing” accusations by the ruling party that the opposition were bent on undermining the election.
With regard to the Somali Region elections held on 21st August, the Carter Centre also echoed the conclusions of EU-EOM. It said: “On election day, Carter Centre observers found that polling stations were chaotic, with the voting process extremely disorganized. Observers uniformly witnessed instances of underage voting, multiple voting, heightened security presence openly partisan polling officials, and open campaigning on voting day in and around polling stations. Opposition parties did not engage in the process in many areas.”
Despite the critical nature of the statement, which has highlighted the catalogue of serious irregularities and flaws in the national election, the conclusion of the Carter Centre appeared to have lacked depth and have also gone way beyond its mandate as an election observation mission. The Carter Centre declared that it was incumbent upon the opposition to file appeals to the High Court in an expeditious manner. “If parties decide not to file court appeals, the NEBE’s announced results should be accepted as final and legitimate.”
However, observers believe that Carter should not have issued an ultimatum to pressurize and corner the opposition to go to court in the absence of an independent judiciary. “The mandate of an election observer does not extend far beyond establishing whether the elections meet international standards or not. It is ultimately up to the electorate to accept or reject TPLF’s power by deception,” said Yehualshet Mekonen
“Carter practically contradicted all his credible findings by saying the election was unfair but the results should be accepted if you don’t appeal to TPLF’s kangaroo court for justice.”
In its executive summery, the report stated: “The Carter Center observation has been conducted according to international standards for non-partisan election observation and is in accordance with the Declaration of Principles for International Observers. Ultimately, it is the citizens and voters who determine the credibility of their elections.”
“I think the final sentence should have been the conclusion of the report. Carter or any other party should let the nation to determine whether continue being ruled by either robber barons like Meles and his opportunistic vultures or by a government elected and endorsed by the people. Our choices are clearer more than ever before,” said Yehualshet, who is currently living in the UK.
The Carter Centre, set up in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, deployed 50 international observers including his wife, Rosalynn, former Botswana President Sir Ketumile Joni Masire, and former Prime Minister of Tanzania Judge Joseph Warioba.
Ethiopian government officials have not indicated yet as to whether Prime Minister Meles is to take up the challenge of producing another record-breaking ‘letter to the editor’ to the Ethiopian Herald to refute the stark findings of the Carter Centre, despite its poor conclusion.