Zenawi vs European MPs over election 2005

Binyam Kedir Abdu (Former First Secretary at Ethiopian Embassy in Kuwait)
Notes taken on the meeting between H.E. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and a delegation of EU Parliamentarians led by Mr. Andres Wijkman on May 13, 2005.
The Prime Minister in his welcoming remarks expressed his pleasure to see reinforcements coming from Europe in the from of EU parliamentarians, to help their colleagues (EU observers) who were already in the country since March, and thanked for their assistance in the process. He then gave the floor to the head of the delegation.
• Thank you for giving us this opportunity. We think that this is also one of the important activities we carry out in our dialogue and cooperation. We believe we can contribute in a number of ways. I was one of the observers in the Kenyan election. All of my colleagues have similar experiences. In general, we have a positive impression. We are used to elections like this one, since we come from parliamentary democracies, where there are usually tight elections. The ruling majority in our countries never had more than 51%. Changes of government at the helm of different parties makes democracy qualitative. We see what is happening as an important process, leading to a more democratic Ethiopia. We have been impressed so far. We met earlier today the Speaker of Parliament, the NEBE, and the leaders of the two main opposition parities. We have a few questions. I understand that your government has declared that everything should be done without violence.

  1. What are you doing to have this message be understood at the local level, as there are reports of allegations of harassment and beatings.
  2. When we talked to the opposition, they told us in some of their constituencies, (12 areas) they say their people have been chased away, and they are not sure whether the elections could be held in these localities.
  3. We are told that election authorities at the local level are leaning towards the ruling party, and this they say has created concerns about their impartiality.
  4. We hear that the tone of the debates have hardened lately. You yourself is said to have indicated that some tactics of the opposition were like what was used in Rwanda, and such situations can emerge if the opposition gains power. We have also heard similar language from the opposition. This type of language could be dangerous in situations like this.
H.E. The Prime Minister:-
I understand that all of you come from parliamentary democracies, where elections from time to time are tight. I understand also that your democracy is not judged by how frequent parties are changing in power. The quality of a democracy is judged by the process rather than the frequency of change of parties in power. If this had been the criteria, then Sweden would have been disqualified for a long time.
Before I try to address some of your questions, let me explain to you how we tried to manage this election. We made our decision last summer, as a party, to have a flawless process. We were, as a party convinced then that the outcome was never in doubt. Many who know Ethiopia will tell you that our party is firmly entrenched in the rural areas where 85% of the population lives. Fortunately or unfortunately the elections were never tight. Under these circumstances, the primary objective of our party was not necessarily to win seats, but to have absolutely credible and democratic elections in Ethiopia. Credible in the eyes of the Ethiopian people and secondly, credible in the eyes of the international community. On the basis of this formal decision of the leadership of the party, we drew a code of conduct for our members and provided trainings before the campaign formally started. And we have published that code of conduct. The government in its turn developed a code of conduct for the police and the local militia and provided training on the basis of the code. In the midst of these all, we got a clear indication of how the opposition intends to proceed. Initially, we got their official document from informal sources. Then it was published, and was made available for everyone. At least some of you might know the author, (Dr. Negede Gobeze) or at least you know his wife who works for the EU.
The opposition, according to Dr. Negede's thesis, has two fundamental objections with regards to the Constitution.

  1. The right to self-determination, the opposition is uncomfortable with this provision.
  2. Under the Ethiopian constitution, land can not be bought or sold. It is public property.
They say, even if they have a majority in parliament they can not implement their program, the constitution constrains them they say from putting their full program into action. They also say that if they win a majority, they will not establish a normal government, but a transitional one. This transitional government will then establish a constitutional commission and draft a new constitution. They don't consider amending the constitution by constitutional means, because they believe the provisions in this current constitution for their program to be fully implemented is too stiff. So if they win, they will change the constitution by unconstitutional means. For them the objective of the election campaign is to carry out what they call a rose revolution, meaning to use the electoral campaign to mobilize support for their agenda, discredit the electoral process and carry out the rose revolution.
They had a huge demonstration in Addis recently. Their electoral symbol is the "V" sign, saying that you can get peace by voting for our party. They even had Jesus, Bush and Blair showing that sign. They seem to suggest that their plan for a rose revolution might have the support of the US. I don't think so, but that is what they conveyed to their supporters. Then we designed a counter-strategy, we call it the strategy of giving them a long rope. That long rope should be there so that every thing they do is visible to the Ethiopian people. So we made a number of adjustments in our previous strategy. The steps we took were;

  1. inviting foreign observers-initially we had misgivings as Amb. Clarke will tell you,
  2. give them the maximum publicity we can, make everybody understand what they stand for.

So we had national debates on every issue, including on land and self-determination policies, and constitutional issues for the last 7-8 months.
With regards to time allocation, we decided not to be based on the normal allocation provisions in Europe. (number of seats)
That will not have given the adequate rope for the opposition.
Then I sent instructions not to detain or imprison anyone unless they are involved in acts that are dangerous to lives and property. I did this after having consulted my legal advisors. I have not made this public. It might have created difficulties. I am going to change that instruction on Sunday evening.
When the opposition saw that we were not giving them excuses they came up with a new strategy. This new strategy had 2 components:-

  1. to fabricate allegations day in and out, yesterday for example, we were supposed to have detained 40 students, accused of poisoning school children around Kolfe. They are carrying out a pattern of fabricating allegations. There is a second plan also,
  2. to provoke the authorities into taking action, and this sometimes takes bizarre forms, like their insistence to carry out campaigns in prisons, prisoners are not allowed to vote. This is intended to provoke the government to detain those who are insisting. But this is not the most frequent provocation. The most frequent one is telling farmers not to pay taxes and debts. They tell them if they (the opposition) comes to power, they will cancel all debts and reduce taxes. So they should not pay but wait for the opposition to get power. Lastly, they suggest that there is a break-down of government control in the country.

In the early period of the campaign, I am supposed to be looking for a new job, Kofi Annan's job. In recent days they have put me in different places in Ethiopia. Yesterday, I was supposed to be in Washington, and half of the cabinet had resigned, after which I fled to Washington. These are tactics for a rose revolution. This is the background (context) in which the reports of allegation should be understood.
Now to answer your questions:-
I am 100% sure that there has not been a systematic process of harassment, beatings or torture. Because we have established a system of inspections and I get reports from this body. The last time I met Gomes (EU Observer Mission Chief Observer) the number of areas of allegations, were three. We discussed with Gomes and I told her that I gave her investigative powers, to go to these places, investigate the cases, and if cases of systematic intimidation is found, I asked her to have her people call her before they left the place and then to call me. If we found any systemic pattern, we would have fired the official before her team left that place. I have not had any feed back from her or from the Carter Center, to whom I made the same offer. I am confident that there is no systematic pattern. If the opposition left any place it is because they know they don't stand a chance. If there are any lingering doubts among the observers, I would suggest that the offer I made to Gomes is still standing till Sunday morning. Pick randomly a sample of allegations and investigate these facts. Having said that, I can't be absolutely sure that nobody was not beaten or there were no isolated violence. I can't be sure of that 100%. What I can be sure is of two things:

  1. Even when there are such incidents, they have happened because of officials implementing the rules of the land contrary to my instructions.
  2. I am sure when we found such incidents, we have taken harsh measures against our party members. In instances where the courts had taken measures, we can't do anything.

Therefore you might find isolated incidents of violence or detentions here and there. But I am 100% sure you will find no pattern. In most cases these could have happened because of provocation and strict implementation of the law. At the same time, you will find ample evidence of repeated false allegations, and of provocation. Understandably, we expect you to report the facts are they are, even if they are incidents, whatever their cause. But we also expect you to report a system of false allegations and provocations, if you have found some, because there are two sides, and the monitoring is conducted on both sides.
With regards to the Rwandan thing, I don't think there is a risk of the Rwandan type of genocide. I have made this very clear to donors and in interviews. But I have said that their intentions and ideology are like the Interahamwe. The reason I said this is quite simple. The Hutus believe that the Tutsis came from Ethiopia, because their facial features look similar. Sending them to Ethiopia through the Nile was their slogan. The Hutus probably did not realize that that tributary does not flow into the Nile, but into Lake Victoria.
The opposition had slogans at their demonstration with similar intents. Tigrayans are accused of being traitors to the Ethiopian cause, because they supported the independence of Eritrea. As a result of that, we feel their ideology is that of the Interahamwe. Fortunately, they only have the intention and not the capacity. Such intolerance of differences of opinion and inter-ethnic relations leads to a Rwanda type situation and that the Ethiopian people should be aware. We felt that such an ideology should be combated, when there is enough time to combat it. Once it has gathered momentum it is difficult to contain. But this is not a source of tension. The source of tension now is the rose revolution. I can assure you that Ethiopia had two colorful revolutions and a less colorful one is not needed. I don't expect any violence.
Mr. WIJKMAN - Thank you for sharing this with us. My spontaneous reaction is that your description of the two contending groups, the EPRDF and the opposition seem to be extremely polarized. The differences are not about the economy or taxes, it is rather in the issues. We all know too little to really make a judgment. We discussed with one of the opposition about the Rwandan thing. He said that they were being accused of pushing the Tigrayans out. He said how can they do that when they have thousands of them as members.
H.E. the P.M. - If they get 1% of the Vote in Tigray, you have got a thousand dollars.
Mr. WIJKMAN - If I win that bet, I will return it back to Ethiopia.
H.E. the P.M. - There is a history for this. Many of the senior leadership of the opposition are people who were associated with the Dergue. Much of the resistance to Mengistu came in the form of an armed struggle mainly for Tigray and Eritrea. Eritrea is no longer in the equation. But the Tigrayans remain to be part of Ethiopia. So the issue of the war on self-determination and land which we thought was settled by the constitution is still being fought over, fortunately without bullets.
Question and Answers period
Mrs. Louisa Morgantini (MEP-Italy) - How are you preparing your policy of eradicating poverty, at the same time giving more space to the opposition?
H.E. the P.M. - We distinguish between the leadership of the opposition and the rank and file. In term of rank and file they don't have many, but their supporters do not support their ideology. These are unemployed youth who are frustrated. So long as they do it through the ballot box that's okay. But these are not voters. Taxi drivers are mad with us for taxes and interest. If they want to express their frustration by supporting the opposition-they are welcome to do so. So we distinguish the legitimate grievance of these from the leaders. These are fighting current fights not yesterday's fights. I don't calculate how many votes or seats we might be getting. What I work out my plan upon is what will I do if I get the majority. If I get the majority I will govern as a majority, if not there will be a partnership, partnership with other regional groups, not with the two oppositions.
These regional groups, the Somali and Afar groups, are friendly to our party, and even though we did not need there votes, we have previously included them in our cabinet. If it is the opposition, they don't want our priorities and we don't want their strategies, so they will be in government and us in the opposition. We will have to wait and see what the result of the election will be. The international community should not be in the business of prescribing how many seats the opposition should get. The election should be judged by the process and not by the results. We don't want this prescription; it should be left for the people.
Mr. KRISTOVASKIS (Latvia) -Your Excellency has mentioned an inspection system. Is this the intelligence type inspection, to separate information coming from political parties or the intelligence?
H.E. the P.M. - This is not about intelligence, party or state. It is about our party checking our people whether they have been respecting our own code of conduct. When we asked the opposition to sign this with us they refused. The government checks our party members whether they are respecting the laws. The party was worried that our code of conduct will not be honoured by the grass-root if they were provoked.
Mr. WIJKMAN - What are the instructions given to the Federal police and the Army?
H.E. the P.M - The Army and the Federal Police I control, report to me. The Army does not involve itself in domestic operations, unless problems become too difficult for the police. I am going to rescind the instruction given to the police Sunday night and they have to go back to implementing the rule of the land strictly. We will do everything to avoid violence. We will see to it that it is nipped in the bud, but we will act within the bounds of the law of the land.
Mr. Mauro Zani (Italy) - We have heard rumours that this opposition would have signed the non-violence pact if the government signed it also, there seems to be some confusion here.
Mrs. Margerete Auken (Denmark) - Demonstrating for change is legal. Demonstrating for a change of constitution is legal. This is not a threatening thing. This is part of campaigning even saying don't pay taxes.
H.E. the P.M. - There are two separate issues here. In our country it is illegal not to pay taxes. Changing the constitution is legal in Ethiopia, and there are provisions for that. Trying to change the constitution through unconstitutional means, this will require a revolution.
On the non-violence pact, if it was the government running for election, we would have signed that. Since it is the ruling party which is running for election, and since formally the government represents those Ethiopians also in the opposition parties, it has to be above parties and they know it, it is just an excuse.

The meeting ended on that note.

posted by Ethiounited Moderator at12:55 AM


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