“If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” —Abraham Maslow When you only have a gun in your tool box, you tend to see everyone and everything as a threat to your very existence.
The May 24, 2015, “election” was a giant step backward for the development of electoral democracy in Ethiopia. The election drama concocted by the TPLF is nothing more than a fraudulent and futile exercise to legitimize the illegitimate. It was an endeavor marred by gross violations of citizens’ rights and doesn’t even stand the scrutiny of bare minimum benchmark of electoral process. By its very nature, the TPLF stands in stark contradiction with the basic tenants of democracy, which include freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, and respect for the rule of law. How can one expect the political space to be open and fair under such circumstances? Throughout its existence, the TPLF has broken all the sacred tenants of democracy and freedom. Exclusive, extremely violent, and relentlessly committed to dividing and polarizing the public, it has neither the aspiration nor the principled interest to foster democracy in Ethiopia.
The TPLF’s election drama is in the same league with North Korea’s “election” fiasco: one party rule, one candidate, an electoral body created and run by loyal party cadres. When one combines all of these elements, the result is a twisted and deformed version of democracy.
Naturally, authoritarian regimes are no friends of democracy. In fact, they loathe and fear it. Guaranteeing citizens the right to choose their government in a free and fair political competition is against their political agenda and vision. Most importantly, ethnic political parties, like the TPLF, see the emergence of inclusive democracy as an existential threat to the very agenda they promote, which is polarization and division. Their insular and exclusive political consciousness lacks both the intellectual and emotional knowledge to critically understand the nature of broad-based, inclusive democracy, let alone to implement it. In their deformed political world, they develop a narrative that only satisfies their own minimum understanding of freedom and democracy.
Electoral democracy in its actual form is rooted in a competition whereby all competing parties have a level playing field. They have unrestricted and equal access to inform the public about their platform and vision with no harassment or intimidation from anyone. Such transparent political space guarantees, ultimately, that it’s the electorate that decides who should govern. Under the TPLF’s “election”, however, this fundamental principle is non-existent. The TPLF, like many other guerrilla groups who came to power through the barrel of a gun, see their battlefield victory as a permanent and transferable asset that applies to every form of competition, be it political or economic. Admitting defeat in a peaceful and non-violent political competition is considered a denigrating loss to the distant past military victory. The only lens for accessing and evaluating all completion is a through the binary lens of military loss and defeat. It is for this primary reason (mind set) that the TPLF refused to accept the result of the 2005 election, when it was widely defeated. In the end, it declared a state of emergency and deployed a deadly force, killing hundreds and arresting tens of thousands of citizens.
This mindset is clearly demonstrated in the re-enactment of past military victory during the recent election campaign (as reported by Ethiomedia). This enactment has multiple purposes and implicit and explicit messages. First, it is to communicate/remind the public that they are not willing to relinquish power through the electoral process. “Anyone who is thinking otherwise must think again.” Second, for the TPLF and the likes, there is no difference between military victory and electoral victory. The first reinforces the latter. Political psychoanalysts call it “time collapse”1: the idea of reactivating and projecting past events into the present such as battlefield or war. In these circumstances the primary objective is not necessarily for the purpose of memorializing or remembrance. Instead the underlying motivation is to blur the time line between the present and the past and to reinstate the past anger and hate against some groups. The other reason for reactivating the past is to play the role of ‘victim’ and ‘hero’ characters. In the reactivation both the ‘victim’ and the hero appear simultaneously. Each side however is exploited for different purposes, the ‘victim’ is played to garner sympathy and support while the ‘hero’ is played to project strength and power. The third objective is to hypnotize the public through the blurred lens of the past and the present so that their woe’s and injustice suffered under TPLF appear in the past.
To embrace electoral democracy, a significant shift in consciousness is required. First and foremost the ability and willingness to play by the rules is a prerequisite. One cannot be a neighborhood bully and embrace a free and fair electoral completion. Accepting a defeat in a peaceful and non-violent arena is the highest form of political maturity and growth. At this stage TPLF doesn’t have either of those qualities. TPLF has grown vertically and horizontally, but it spectacularly failed to grow-up.