Ethiopian-American Yonas Gebreselasse believes his home country is still on the right track, despite European Union claims this week’s parliamentary election was unfair. While recognizing Ethiopian free speech is not what he experiences in the United States, Gebreselasse believes Ethiopia’s vote on Sunday kept the best party in power.
The May 24 vote gave the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front an estimated 442 of the 547 seats in parliament. Final results are expected June 22.
Ethiopia invited the African Union to provide election observers but refused to accredit U.S. diplomats. Hifikepunye Pohamba, head of the African Union Election Observation Mission, announced in a press conference their conclusions: “The parliamentary elections were calm, peaceful, and credible as they provided an opportunity for the Ethiopian people to express their choices at the polls.”
Some opposition leaders have alleged their members were harassed and beaten while trying to vote. The government denied the charges.
The U.S. State Department said it “remains deeply concerned by continued restrictions of civil society, media, opposition parties, and independent voices and views.”
Missionaries from the region were unwilling to go on the record about political issues, fearing the government would shut down their ministries. But they expressed understanding for the reasoning behind Ethiopia’s restrictive policies, suggesting the peace it maintains is more valuable.
Gebreselasse, a former member of the Ethiopian National Defense Force, agrees. He believes the “society is not ready for democracy” according to U.S. understanding. Gebreselasse left Ethiopia 13 years ago but is in close contact with his extended family there and follows its politics. For now, he sees the current ruling party as the only viable option and, despite its flaws, a positive influence for Ethiopia.
Ethiopia is the only African country never colonized. In 1991, a revolution ended communism in the country. The current parliamentary system and constitution are only 20 years old.
Gabreselasse hopes education will enable the next generation to make the slow social changes needed for a country to practice democracy at the standards of developed nations.
Education for All, a UN effort, reviewed Ethiopia’s education systems and was impressed by the improvement in higher education. UN officials attribute this success to “the aggressive role played by the government and the initiatives taken by some private investors.”
Gebresalasse remembers a time when higher education was virtually inaccessible. As the next generation rises, he believes the world will see Ethiopia’s democracy improve.
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