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The European Union (EU), last week, announced its decision to pull out of the Ethiopian election following failure to reach an agreement with the country’s government.
According to the High Representative of the EU to Ethiopia Josep Borrell, the cancellation of the election mission was occasioned by the refusal of the Ethiopian government to fulfil standard requirements needed for the mission.
Borrell said the Ethiopian government refused to grant requirements that would ensure the independence of the mission as well as the importation of communication systems for the observers.
He stated that the import of the communication systems was imperative for the security of the observers, citing the current hostile environment in some parts of Ethiopia.
“It is disappointing that the EU has not received the assurances necessary to extend to the Ethiopian people one of its most visible signs of support for their quest for democracy. The EU encourages the Ethiopian authorities to increase efforts to guarantee all Ethiopians can exercise their legitimate political and civil rights,” Borell said in a statement.
The United States has also questioned the credibility, freeness and fairness of the proposed June 5 election, stating that if the election must hold, a conducive electoral environment must be achieved.
United States Department spokesperson Ned Price said during a briefing on Monday that for a credible election, “the government of Ethiopia must respect the freedom of assembly, the freedom of speech, political participation, and access to internet and information.”
However, as of the time of filing this report, there was still heavy military presence in the crisis-torn Tigray region of Ethiopia where over five million people are said to be in need of emergency care following clashes with the Ethiopian federal government led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
In September 2020, Tigray drew the battle line with the federal government after conducting a regional parliamentary election despite its postponement by the latter due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thousands have now been killed, millions displaced, following several violent attacks between the region and the federal government.
Another Uganda election in the making?
A few months ago, the EU had also pulled out of the Ugandan presidential elections that brought in Youveri Museveni into power for the sixth term on January 14.
The EU did not observe the election on grounds that the Ugandan government had failed to effect or adopt previous recommendations by the Union.
The Union said the Ugandan government had failed to improve on recommended reforms to make the electoral body more independent, eliminate excessive use of force by the armed forces and ensure transparency in result collation.
Before and during the election, there were recorded events of excessive use of force, violent attacks and intimidation by the Ugandan security agencies.
Also, on the eve of the election, the Ugandan government shut down the internet, stating that it was harmful to its people.
As it stands, without a strong observation from foreign missions, there could be a repeat of the events that occurred in Uganda in Ethiopia.
A political and public affairs analyst Lekan Oketokun told The ICIR that Ethiopia could also experience the events that played out in Uganda earlier in January.
On the refusal of the Ethiopian government to grant EU permission to bring in its equipment, Oketokun said the latter could bring in any communication system as long as it did not impede on the sovereignty of the former.
He said elections were international events, even though they appeared local, explaining that states were often subjected to international guidance and conventions, and the government should not dictate to the international union.
However, he noted that the Ethiopian government might have refused to allow the communication systems in order to keep international observers away from witnessing in full-scale some of the human rights abuses being perpetrated by the government in the Tigray region of the country.
“The truth of the matter is that when it comes to elections in Africa, incumbent governments do not like being observed, so they come up with lots of hurdles for election monitors to observe and that does not sit well with many international observers,” Oketokun said.
Human rights campaigner Frank Umeh explained that the EU might have given Ethiopia a reason to rejoice.
“That’s the challenge that Africa has to overcome. Can the right of citizens to vote be guaranteed when there is no one to really monitor the elections? Will there not be rigging by the powerful and party in power?” he asked.
Ethiopian government responds
In a response to questions from The ICIR, the Office of the Ethiopian Prime Minister said it was ‘surprised’ by the refusal of the EU to observe the election.
Making reference to an article, the Ethiopian government said it was ‘unfortunate’ that communications were cited as the deal-breaker.
The Ethiopian government said it had made it clear to the EU that the state-owned telecommunication Ethio-telecom would be the only service provider for the election while other tools could be imported.
The Ethiopian Foreign Affairs Minister said “questioning the effectiveness and efficiency of its services is not a convincing reason to take the hasty decision of cancelling the mission’s deployment.”
The ministry also said the major bone of contention between the parties was about who should be the first to issue public comments over the election’s preliminary findings.
“In the same vein, the EU has also rejected the proposal by the Ethiopian side to include in the Agreement that statements or public comments by the observer mission prior to the issuance of its preliminary findings and conclusions not be prejudicial to the election process or influence the perception of the public, on the result of the election to be announced only by NEBE,” the ministry said.
The Ethiopian government said that in the past, such pronouncements by other EU observer missions had serious repercussions on the country.
On EU refusal to observe the election, the Ethiopian government said “while external observers could add some value to strengthen the quality of electoral processes, they are neither essential nor necessary to certify the credibility of an election.”
As it stands, the Ugandan election could hold without observers from the EU.