offers arguably the best archetype that could be adopted for elections in Ethiopia . The Model Code is “a unique document that has evolved with the consensus of political parties themselves and the Commission implements and enforces it with the aim of providing a level playing field for all political parties and ensuring free and fair elections.” It is comprehensive and addresses nearly every potentially disruptive and unfair election practice that could undermine confidence in an election outcome. It disapproves of actions and messages by any party that creates ethnic hatred or communal tensions, prohibits the use of inflammatory rhetoric based on personal attacks and false allegations; it strongly discourages demagogic appeals to communal feelings and divisive propaganda for votes; and it prohibits and penalizes corrupt and illegal practices such as bribery, voter intimidation, violation of election laws, improper use of public property and resources for partisan advantages.
To ensure a level playing field, the Model Code prohibits government ministers from combining their official visits with electioneering. They are prohibited from using official equipment, vehicles or government employees in electioneering work; and they may not make payments, financial grants or promises of money or other public works projects to any person or constituency from the time elections are announced by the Commission. There are special rules for election day to “ensure peaceful and orderly polling and complete freedom to the voters to exercise their franchise without being subjected to any annoyance or obstruction.” Criminal penalties in the form of a three-year simple imprisonment or fine are provided “for persons who create enmity between people in the name of religion, caste, community or language during the election campaign.” There are ample mechanisms to challenge the party in power where there is reason to believe officials are exploiting their offices for partisan advantage.
Central to the whole process of free and fair elections in India is the constitutional role played by the independent Election Commission of India, which has broad authority in elections administration. The Commission decides and announces the election schedules for general or bye-elections, registers political parties, settles disputes and conducts periodic consultations with them. It has broad authority to review charges of election fraud and corrupt election practices. It has the power to disqualify candidates who fail to meet basic requirements of the election law. It has advisory jurisdiction in post-election disqualification of sitting members of parliament. The Commission maintains its transparency and reinforces its impartiality by holding regular press briefings during elections. Most importantly, the Commission is insulated from executive, legislative and judicial interference.
To Have or Not To Have Free and Fair Election in 2010
We would like to end on a hopeful note. We believe that an election code of conduct that is forged through a consensus of all the political parties and administered by an independent and impartial electoral commission could go a long way to ensure a peaceful, fair and free election in 2010. We are also realistic. We may try to analyze, theorize, slice and dice the obvious. In the final analysis, it may all end up being the old zero-sum game the regime has played so well for the past two decades, this time dressed up as a new game of “election code of conduct.” We can wax eloquence all day but none of us understand or are able to tell the truth about elections in Ethiopia with greater moral clarity and conviction than Birtukan Midekssa, who, a day before she was manhandled and whisked back to Kality prison on December 27, 2008 by the regime’s security officers said:
The message [of the regime] is clear not just to me but to all others involved in peaceful struggle [in Ethiopia]: Participation in the political process shall be as approved by the regime in power or at the discretion of individuals [wielding state power]. For me, this is extremely difficult to accept.
It may be difficult for many of us to accept this bizarre reality as well. “To have or not to have a free and fair election in 2010,” that is the question facing the people of Ethiopia today. We used the word “madness” in describing the 2010 election advisedly. Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Participating in a bogus election over and over again and expecting a different result could be an alternative definition of insanity.
The madness of the 2010 "elections" (Part I)