Friday, January 29, 2010

Boycott as a Tool of Democracy

Maimire Mennasemay wrote an article recently titled "Retooling the 2010 Election as a Weapon of Democracy" in which he suggested that the upcoming Ethiopian elections in May could be used as a means to advance the cause of democracy if handled right. Here is the crux of his argument:
...Elections are political tools, and like any tool, every election could become a tool for democracy if we “hold it right”, which means that if we hold the 2010 election right, it could become a powerful weapon for effectively de-legitimating the TPLF/EPDRF regime....

...Using the COC [Code of Conduct] as a political boomerang that comes back to its originating context and knocks it open to expose what it tries to hide—the anti-democratic and exploitative nature of the TPLF/EPDRF regime—is an action that those who signed and did not sign the COC, and those who participate and do not participate in the election, could take....

...But this is possible only if the members of the Ethiopian democratic family abide by a democratic code of conduct, implicit or explicit, based on mutual respect and tolerance.
Oh, how I wish this could be the case! Unfortunately and sadly, the Woyane regime has been preparing diligently for the last five years to make sure that there is very little chance of this scenario unfolding during the upcoming election. Besides, opposition groups of all hues had participated in elections in 1992, 1995, 2000 and 2005, and all of them have already proven that the ruling regime is not interested in being a partner for building a democracy in Ethiopia. Been there, done that. This is not to suggest that the weaknesses among the opposition has not contributed to democracy not taking root in Ethiopia under Woyane rule, but the blame rests squarely on Woyane's shoulders, no question.

So, what is the point of participating in another election, especially one that is highly scripted, which will not provide Ethiopians with any hope for representative government they desire and deserve? It is pointless.

It is not that I disagree with the notion that "every election could become a tool for democracy if we 'hold it right'”; it's just that I think Ethiopia, 18 years into Woyane rule, has reached the point where participation in yet another sham election will cause an irreparable harm to the larger task of laying the foundations for a democratic order in Ethiopia. Therefore, in my humble opinion, the best tool to use to advance the cause of democracy in Ethiopia at this point in time is through BOYCOTT, not participation in yet another sham elections.

I do not reach this conclusion lightly. As any long time reader of this blog can easily surmise, I have a lot of respect to those politicians who take tremendous risks to their own safety to fight the Woyane dictatorship on the ground in Ethiopia by using all peaceful means at their disposal. The supply of such politicians is limited and I see no need to waste precious resources and energy in the upcoming election. What is the logic behind sacrificing these kinds of politicians for a meaningless objective? I can't justify.

Isn't the sacrifice of Birtukan Mideksa and the thousands of others who are currently and have previously been incarcerated and the hundreds who have already given their precious lives for the cause of democracy not sufficient enough to prove the Woyane regime is an illegitimate one? I think it is! I would rather see the Mideksa type of Ethiopian politicians wise up and live to fight another day.

My view is that even if the parties that are currently registered to run in the elections, especially those with the Medrek coalition, end up taking part in the election, the political forces that are left out of the process are way too significant to consider the election a useful tool for democracy. I say: Why not boycott the 2010 election and let the chips fall where they may?


dessalegn_asfaw said...

The problem with a boycott is that it only works when it is widespread and coordinated. A widespread and coordinated effort requires a united (coherent at least) and organized opposition. A united and organized opposition does not exist. That is why there can't be a boycott.

A boycott may be a good idea in the abstract, but the reality is that today it cannot be done. Democracy groups such as Medrek consider must take into consideration current political realities as they choose their strategy and tactics.

Given the current opposition fragmentation and public cynicism, and given that this is the biggest impediment to democracy and opposition success, I would say that the focus of opposition groups should be to work towards unity, repairing public perceptions, and strengthening grassroots connections. Their strategy and tactics must be focused towards this goal. It's a long term project, but there's no choice.

enset said...


There is also very little chance for the opposition to be united either. In the article I quoted, Maimire also pinned his hope for the election being used as a tool to de-legitimize the Woyane on this idea. I just think this is a wishful thinking in the post Meles-$hawel hand shake deal. I am of the opinion that the Rubicorn was crossed at that moment.

Anything else that the other opposition groups will do to participate in the election from that point on will only help to legitimize the Woyane regime by the electorate rather than to de-legitimize it further. Even Siye Abraha's announcement of his candidacy will not change this fact.

I agree that for a boycott to be effective it, too, needs a united opposition. But my argument was really not about an effective boycott but rather about saving resources and lives to live to fight at more opportune moment than the upcoming election. As I said earlier, a point of no return was reached with the Meles-$hawel deal.