Is it finished yet?

Posted on September 1, 2010


“Anyone who tries to disqualify a report like ours disqualifies himself. It is solid as a rock and can not be pushed aside.”

This was the strong reaction of Chief observer Thijs Berman of the European Union Election Mission to Ethiopia (EU EOM) at the end of May, just after the national elections in Ethiopia. Berman responded to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s rejection of his preliminary report.

In that report Berman hailed the high turnout in peacefully held elections on May 23, but also criticized the lack of a level playing field for political parties and the use of state resources for campaign purposes in favour of the ruling EPRDF party.

No proof
Meles – who had just won 99,6 percent of the votes – denounced these conclusions as politically biased and accusations without any proof. That was very disrespectful, according to Berman. His assessment was based on facts presented by his team of professional and highly experienced observers.

So far for the “he says, she says”. Ethiopia is still waiting for a final report on its elections. Before Berman and his crew of professionals left Ethiopia, they explicitly promised to publish a critical final report “within two months”. It has been more than three now.

Meles doesn’t care about the EU statement and if it’s late. In fact he’s not interested in the full package at all, he recently told Capital newspaper. He expects it to be bad and it’s not going to change anything.

One seat
But Ethiopians do care. Their new parliament, with one seat for the opposition, is about to be sworn in. These MPs were elected during the polls the EU mission observed. It’s relevant to hear the position of observers who say they highly value democracy on a parliament that is almost solely dominated by one party.

A look at the EU EOM’s website tells us that there hasn’t been much activity lately. In fact, the latest press statement has been released on May 26, when Berman was still in Addis Ababa, tweeting about the rally where Meles claimed his victory and strongly condemned any accusations of unfair elections. The crowd yelled slogans like: “Observing yes, Trojan horse no!”

According to Berman, the rally was staged and an obvious intimidation of his observers’ mission.

When expected
Ethiopia has been relatively late to invite the observers to come and do their job. The EU mission first arrived in April to start preparations. Questions about the short time span and if it would be sufficient to get a full view of the political situation were brushed aside. Berman underlined on several occasions that his team was experienced, professional and more than capable of doing the job.

But they keep remarkably quiet ever since. Berman’s predecessor Ana Gomez was way too early in announcing here views on the disputed elections of 2005. Berman takes more time for his final statement, to make an understatement.

After all the talks about professionalism, experience and reports that are solid as a rock, the least Berman can do is to clarify why his final report is too late and when it is expected.