The writer is a Ph.D. student at Ankara University Faculty of Communication, Anadolu Agency correspondent
As Ethiopians throng polling stations to cast their ballots in the 6th Parliamentary and Regional Councils elections today, different speculations are spread throughout the country about what is going to happen in Ethiopia after all the voting process is over.
Ethiopians are on the verge of hope and frustration as they are voting to decide their leader for at least the coming five years in a row. The populous country with around 114 million people, has entered an era of polarized party politics which has recently boomed, resulting in several deaths and displacements of its citizen, as argued by a prominent political figure, Merera Gudina. The ethnic division (with over 100 ethnic groups in the Ethiopian case) has made it worse for the government to find a way out of the recent instability in the Horn of Africa country.
Different media outlets have already been reporting about how the election is a sham and politicians jog to win public support, appealing to their emotions. Furthermore, campaigns of political parties were more populist and filled with ambitious promises to the country that supposedly influence public decisions.
However, most parties were inconsiderate of what the public really wants and what really is looming in the country.
The Ethiopian political elite is responsible for a surge in the post-society discourse that inculcates extremism and causes instability in the country, according to Jim Macnamara, a prominent Australian communications scholar. According to Macnamara, the post-society era is the fragmentation of society and societal values.
The Ethiopian people are waiting for the post-election promised peace to bounce back and live everyday life. The significant difference between the past and the current elections is the public's ambivalent situation that hangs between the looming extremist violence and promises of democratization.
Therefore, as various researchers argue, voting behaviors are dependent on the public's state of being by the time of election. Ethiopia recently is characterized as a state at the juncture of democratization and extremism that has created chaos in the region as a whole.
After Nobel laureate Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed assumed power in 2018, he drastically moved towards reconciliation across the country and the Horn of Africa region, making headlines in media. He released political prisoners, ousted corrupt officials, and made various infrastructural reforms in the country.
He also brought back once "terrorist" labeled parties, vowing to hold a free and fair election in the country. Moreover, Abiy reformed the electoral board and, in a surprise move, named former resistance icon Birtukan Mideksa as chairwoman of the board. The move brought hope for the people to see a long-anticipated free and fair election.
On the other hand, the groups who were dismayed by these changes were awaiting a favorable time to act against the reforms and regain their say in the political arena. TPLF (Tigray People's Liberation Front) is one of the groups which is now designated as a terrorist organization by the government of Ethiopia.
TPLF, a dominant group during the pre-Abiy leadership time, has been confronting the federal government in the northern Tigray region, resulting in hundreds of deaths and displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. Adding to the crisis, the external pressure to end this conflict has created severe economic problems for an already contracted economy of the country. Furthermore, the arrest of some prominent politicians has dragged the reformation process back to square one, as most opposition parties claim.
Desire for peace, stability
Nevertheless, what we shall go through is the citizens' desire and need for a stable and peaceful country. In developing countries like Ethiopia, where unprecedented crises pop out every now and then, solid security becomes the major issue for people while casting their vote.
In his book Risk Society, Ulrich Beck argued that society is in search of solidarity and closeness against emerging insecurity.
Not to mention external threats, including the GERD (Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam) issue, Ethiopians believe that the interlocked life of the society that for a long time kept the minor cultural differences aside is becoming a security threat recently.
Endale Mekonen, 44, says that Ethiopians are now afraid of moving from place to place freely to make a living. People are killed for their ethnic identity. Mekonen, an agri-products merchant, has been sitting in his home instead of going to various parts of the country to meet farmers and make his living.
"Now I sit in my home with my wife and four children. I'm afraid that extremists will kill me if I travel," he said. This extremist violence is the result of lawlessness since the regional governments are failing to keep their legitimacy among the public, according to him.
Medina Isa, a mother of two, also believes that the public is already fed up with elite politics, which always threatens unity and harmony among different ethnic communities. "We are in our country and lived in this city [Addis Ababa] for almost 25 years. We have neighbors who are from different ethnic groups and whose kids are friends with mine," she lamented the deteriorating trust in the community due to mismanaged questions of identity and misused social base.
"This election is expected to give some relief to people from the turmoil triggered by interest groups," Zerihun Chiksa, a political science student, argues as he believes that interest groups only favor their political goals instead of the public good.
Ethiopians are not much interested in who wins the election and who would take the political power since their trust in political forces for development has been eroded. Rather what is important is the restoration of peace and stability the new legitimate government should ensure after the election.
* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.