By: Merhatsidk Mekonnen Abayneh
Flight to Mekelie
It is nearly three years now since the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (T.P.L.F) had been expelled from the Arat Kilo Palace in Addis Ababa and fled to Mekele following the dissolution of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (E.P.R.D.F) as a formidable coalition which has managed to rule over the country for almost three consecutive decades in an authoritarian manner. Although Prosperity Party was set up on the ashes of the former E.P.R.D.F to replace the latter, TPLF has preferred to become indifferent to the new constellation and still remains at odds with the ruling Prosperity Party in power outside Tigray.
Emergency Session of the House
On September 5 2020, the House of Federation (HOF) of Ethiopia reluctantly declared in its emergency session to have debated and passed by majority vote a landmark resolution denouncing the preparatory process of holding separate regional election embarked upon by the Tigrean authorities and vowed to nullify any outcome it may produce afterwards.
In the terms of its ambivalent note, the unilateral move by the Northern State of Tigray to resort to and conduct an isolated election, including the enactment of electoral law and the concomitant establishment of its Electoral Commission are null and void thus making the result of the adventure invalid and of no effect at all.
Having examined the recommendation submitted to it by its Constitutional Interpretation and Identity Affairs’ Permanent Committee supported by the Council of Constitutional Inquiry, the House concluded that the whole exercise of the regional election won’t be considered legitimate and credible deserving implementation by any means pursuant to the provisions laid down in Art. 9 Sub-Art. (1) and Art. 102 of the country’s constitution.
Apart from that, the House did, for the very first time, recognize and remarked, at least in loose and conciliatory terms, on the gross human rights violation which is currently being perpetrated in Wolqait-Tseghedie, Raya and Thelemt areas of the Tigray Region adjacent to the neighboring Amhara State.
The above mentioned territories were forcefully annexed and occupied by the pre-constitutional Weyanie forces from their original arrangement against the wishes of the inhabitants. Historically, these territories belonged to Gonder and Wollo Provinces which, at present-day constitute the Amhara Region.
By and large, the inhabitants of these areas trace their cultural and linguistic affinity or more resemblance to the Amhara community and, to that effect, demand for the reunification with their immediate compatriots without further delay. Definitely, there abounds so much pain and consistent outcry that the populations in question are being mistreated and severely persecuted in an effort to suppress their bitter and persistent struggle to re-establish their demolished identity and regain their lost territorial homeland to no avail. This time around, the people in the cited areas have protested against the action of the Tigrean Regime and refused to take part in the stalled regional election organized in an open defiance of the Central Government decision to postpone it in view of the spread of the global pandemic.
Yet, the resolution, regardless of its admission of the wrongdoing, still appears to be less relevant for the people in distress as it does not, however, provide for any concrete and remedial measure in favor of tackling their difficulties as they continue under subjugation from the enormous suffering they have been passing through the day under the ruthless yoke of the dictatorial behavior and tyranny by the Tigrean special forces.
In other words, the declaratory statement duly released by the highest constitutional organ, (sometimes referred to as the ‘upper ‘chamber’, amounts to a guilty verdict rendered by a criminal court of law, virtually without any meaningful and determinate sentence such as jail terms so as to penalize the cruel offender putting an immense pressure on them at liberty and deter other potential candidates from committing similar misconduct. In fact, the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)’s Executive Committee earlier lambasted the highest constitutional authority and warned in its organizational statement that any decision on the part of the House of the Federation in connection with its electoral preparation would amount to an open declaration of war against Tigray and its people poised for their lasting self-determination as inherently enshrined under the infamous Art. 39 of the Federal Constitution.
Fake Election Instead of a Genuine one
It is to be recalled that the sixth-round national and state elections which were slated for August 29 had been extended for a period of 9 through 12 months to be counted from the date of the COVID-19 having been contained and put under control following the controversial interpretation of the constitution earlier in June 2020 on the part of the House itself amid the heated deliberation and debate across the political spectrum. By virtue of that resolution, both the federal and state governments have been allowed to remain in power regardless of the expiry of their mandates until such time that they shall have been replaced by their respective substitutes once the delayed election takes place.
No doubt that this extra ordinary position taken by the House of Federation to postpone the entire election and prolong the authority at all levels equally applies to and legitimates the existing Tigrean legislative and executive organs, too.
In view of this affirmative development, it is not that clear what the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (T.P.L.F) will actually gain out of the futile exercise in which it has unilaterally engaged itself in an unprecedented defiance of the prohibitive terms of the resolution passed by the House of the Federation.
Come what may, the inflated election has now taken place in a misguided manner on September 9 2020 with little or no attention paid to it on the part of the Federal Government gazing at the frustrating show from afar. Definitely, it is impossible to think of a free and fair election in the absence of a neutral electoral body and independent observers from home and abroad.
On the backdrop of this tricky development, Dr. Debre-Tsion Ghebre-Michael, the Deputy Head of Government of Tigray is quoted to have imprudently commented after having casted his vote in Aduwa that “the masses are to be feared more than the Corona Virus”. To the dismay and astonishment of onlookers, he was not ashamed to elaborate that the electorate has been emboldened to turn out and joyfully participate in the unique regional election with full confidence. In that case, it looks as if the population was, to a large extent, led to believe and act like a breakaway portion of the country permitted to establish a de-facto state of Tigray in due course.
Now that the fictitious Electoral Commission tasked with the responsibility has publicized the result, TPLF is shamelessly declared to have won the election in a landslide victory with a record score of 98.8 % of the votes overriding all the remaining satellite groupings invited under the guise of political parties to take part in that dramatic theatre only to accompany the vanguard party whom they consider unwinnable by any means. When this translates into parliamentary seats, it is now laughable to find out that TPLf has henceforth been warming up to occupy 189, but one seats of the entire Regional Assembly to be inaugurated shortly. Obviously, this is tantamount to an open insult to the natural intelligence of the civilized community.
In real terms, it is the narrow-minded politicians from an outdated ideological background who have been tirelessly advancing selfish and parochial desires and interests alone that promote and call for a de-facto state. The mindset of our Tigrean compatriots is, on the contrary, is far removed from the psychology of cessation of their very homeland from the center.
Many of the TPLF elders, (now at the daudering age), are heard consistently claiming the seprate regional election is being resorted to with a view and in order to operationalize Art. 39 of the Federal Constitution which under Sub-Art. (1) asserts that “every nation, nationality and people in Ethiopia has an unconditional right to self-determination, including the right to secession”. Furthermore, they quite frequently lament on the instrumentality of Sub-Art. (3) of the same Article for “every nation, nationality and people in the country to demand the right for a full measure of self-government which includes the right to establish institutions of government in the territory that it inhabits and to equitable representation in both the state and federal governments”.
Should one critically explore, though, none of the provisions of the infamous Article on which they wish to rely for their stubborn approach and action specifically stipulates a unilateral election to be conducted by any state of the federation. This mandate is already centralized and bestowed upon the National Electoral Bord under Art. 102 of the Constitution without any exception.
In fact, Art. 102 Sub-Art. (1) of the Federal Constitution makes it mandatorily clear that “there shall be established a national electoral board independent of any influence to conduct in an impartial manner free and fair election in both Federal and State constituencies”. Art. 55 Sub-Art. (2) d. of the basic law of the land already vests the “power of issuing electoral laws and procedures as well as enforcing political rights established by the constitution” in the House of the People’s Representatives. Consequently, under no circumstances are state governments entitled to enact electoral laws, establish separate bodies for the implementation of such laws and conduct unilateral elections which are the prerogatives of both the country’s Supreme Legislature and the National Electoral Board re-established under Proclamation No. 1133/2019.
To make matters even more explicit, Art. 2. Sub-Art. (5) of the newly enacted Ethiopian Electoral, Political Parties Registration and Election’s Code of Conduct Proclamation No. 1162/2019 defines the term “election” in such a way as to encompass or embrace a range of “general elections, local elections, bi-election or re-election to be conducted in accordance with the F.D.R.E’s Constitution, regional constitutions and other relevant laws”.
Pursuant to Art. 2. Sub-Art. (6) of the same proclamation, what are known as “general elections” include those elections conducted with a view to producing members of the house of People’s Representatives and Regional State Councils in accordance with the relevant laws”.
By way of a constitutional and statutory mandate, the undertaking of all general elections, (local elections, bi-election, re-election and referendum included, as appropriate), conducted in the country in compliance with the constitution are the preserve of the National Electoral Board. Save exceptional circumstances, “general elections are conducted throughout the country simultaneously” under the auspices of the Board and the approval of the House of People’s Representatives as provided for in Art. 7 of the proclamation under consideration.
As a rule, the crucial issue of citizen participation in the conduct of public affairs including the right to elect and be elected is an inherent right enshrined under Art. 38 of the Federal Constitution and Art. 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which the country has ratified and made it part and parcel of the domestic legal system under Art. 9 Sub-Art. (4) of the constitution. Nevertheless, this has nothing to do with the grand right of the people to determine their own destiny as an independent and sovereign state in the strict sense of public international law.
Hence, the poorly propounded argument which the TPLF ideologues advance to resort to the conduct of separate regional election in the name of the right of the people to self determination and self-governance is far-fetched and not tenable from a constitutional point of view. In fact, what they have gone through in their latest adventure may best be likened with a referendum conducted to assess the public interest or know the public desire based on a decision made in accordance with the F.D.R.E’s Constitution or other relevant laws although it does not comply with the basic requirements laid down under Art. 39 of the Federal Constitution itself from the very outset.
An age-old proverb reminds us of the fact that “the fruit of the poisonous tree is poisonous itself”. With that universal understanding, the would-be structured 190-member strong regional council whose inauguration is to be witnessed and administered by the illegal Electoral Commission is to become illegal perse. Nevertheless, the resolution of the House of Federation remains to be far from perfect as it does not, in any way, penalize the wrongdoers involved in the course of action deemed unconstitutional from the very start.