It is to be recalled that the leadership of the OLF returned to Ethiopia’s capital, Finfinne, in September 2018 after the party ended decades-long hostilities with the Ethiopian state in August 2018 with the main goal of addressing the next chapter of the quest of the Oromo people for democracy and self-determination through peaceful political struggle. At that point in time, our people hoped that the culmination of the two years transitional process that the country had entered since April 2018 will be the conduct of a free and fair election for the first time in the country’s history.
However, it did not take too long for these hopes to begin to wane, and ultimately dashed. After a cheap political victory is reaped by the ruling group under the banner of ‘allowing opposition political parties to enter the country’, the regime wasted no time. Propaganda campaigns on both social and conventional media against the OLF began within a few days of its arrival in Finifinne on 15 September 2018.
At the peak of these propaganda attack and disinformation campaign, and despite concerted efforts by the OLF to give precedence for dialogue, the regime entered into an open military campaign in the western and southern parts of Oromia. In hindsight, it is now clear that the regime never wanted the end of hostilities and reintegration of freedom fighters into the police and security apparatus of the state as had been agreed upon in the ‘Asmara Covenant’ in August 2018. In lieu of integrating freedom fighters into the society and effectively ending armed aggressions, the regime chose to conveniently use the continued presence of hostilities as a pretext to push the OLF out of the peaceful political struggle by citing a nonexistent link with armed insurgents.
The Covid-19 pandemic came in the midst of a continued crackdown in Oromia to weaken the opposition before the anticipated August 2020 election. While the pandemic has given rise to various objective conditions that render holding meaningful nation-wide elections difficult, the process that led to the postponement of the elections, however, was mired by questionable legal and political processes. Legally speaking, since the constitution left no room for extension of parliamentary term limits, postponement of the election required a new political settlement with the exiting political forces which the regime rejected with little to no doubts.
As the opposition and disapproval to this illegal extension of power intensified from all directions, the regime used the assassination of one of our brightest sons—artist Hacaaluu Hundeessaa—to further continue its crackdown including, now, at the higher echelons of every formidable political opposition—left, right and center. To this day, the assassination of Hacaaluu and many other high profile political killings remains uninvestigated by an independent third party.
Having done such a heavy-handed crackdown against all forces that espouse regional autonomy and self-determination in the country’s southern half, the ruling party is now prosecuting the same war, a war waged on political differences instead of political negotiations and dialogue, in Tigray as an extension to its crackdown in Oromia and the wider south. It is a matter of public record that the OLF is no friend of the TPLF. Together with our allies, we are the leading political organization in the fight against the TPLF-led, now defunct EPRDF government. However, on principle, we recognize that the current war in Tigray is an war extended from the suppression in Oromia.
After a major diplomatic blunder by the ruling party in which it agreed to a US mediated settlement on the GERD, Ethiopia has lost Sudan as an ally, and we are now on the verge of a full-blown military confrontation with another neighboring state.
We live in a country in which members of genuine opposition including high-ranking political leadership are arrested on the whim of the ruling party arbitrarily; kept in appalling conditions including when they were fully acquitted by courts, or even by the state prosecution in some cases. We live in a country where offices of the opposition—beginning from their headquarters—are raided and controlled by the ruling party at will.
It is within this general context that the country is now ‘preparing’ for a nation-wide general election. We would like to remind the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) and every concerned stakeholder that elections are not merely about the day of casting ballots. The most important aspect of an election is the process that leads to Election Day. The credibility of elections, the cornerstone in democratization process, is much more dependent on all the pre-election processes and activities, in which the presence of even playing field for the contesting political parties. It is well known that Elections are judged by the totality of the processes that lead to the casting of secret ballots. It is largely based on the process that elections are arbitrated to have been free, fair, and impartial. This process needs to be one that allows space for all political parties with impartiality to operate freely, independent media that serves all without bias to flourish, an election board and judiciary that is capable of functioning independently.
Much less to be fair, free, and credible, this is an election the result of which is already predetermined. For a rational observer, this is a non-election that should not be conducted in such conditions. The only reason the ruling group is hellbent on going through with the election is to create the impression that it is an elected government. Otherwise, there is no reason to conduct such an expensive election to be financed from donors and the coffers of a poor country in which millions of its people are starving today.
Consequently, the OLF believes that:
- Let alone fulfilling the bare minimum prerequisites to hold free and fair elections in an aspiring democracy, the current state of the country falls short of the lowest standards of even illiberal democracies elsewhere.
- Having gone through the processes partially described above in the past two years, the outcome of such an election will be the farthest from free, fair, representative, and acceptable to all stakeholders.
- If held, the election will not bring about any significant difference in terms of addressing the country’s major political problems and contradictions.
Therefore, the OLF regrettably pronounces that its participation in the upcoming general election is completely prevented because the ruling Prosperity Party (PP) intentionally ignored and has given deaf ear with an intent of securing undue advantages for itself and its allies in the election, and hindered the satisfaction of the bellow mentioned conditions; addressing the following legitimate demands of not only of opposition political parties, but also of the society at large that, if heeded and responded to positively, help the democratization process of the country.
- Free all political prisoners without any precondition;
- Restore offices of opposition parties currently closed and/or controlled by the ruling party and the security apparatus it controls;
- End active hostilities in all parts of the country in favor of an all-inclusive negotiation;
- Ensure the independence and impartiality of key institutions including the Ethiopian National Electoral Board (NEBE), the judiciary, and the law enforcement arm of the executive.
- Start a decisive process of political dialogue in which all stakeholders participate with ultimate objective of political settlement.
Victory to the Masses!
Oromo Liberation Front
March 8, 2021