Since the overthrow of the communist regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam in May 1991, Ethiopia has organised regular elections in which an increasing number of international actors, especially election observers, have been involved. During this period, one political organization, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), has been dominant. When in control, the prime minister, Meles Zenawi, served continuously as head of government until his death in August 2012. He was succeeded by Hailemariam Desalegn. The tensions and contradictions between external democracy-promoters and the practices and ideals of the Ethiopian leadership were brought into sharp focus after the 2005 and 2010 elections. Both elections led to a diplomatic crisis, especially between the regime and EU observers. However, this conflict did not substantially affect the levels of external aid or the continued dominance of the EPRDF.
The interaction between international and domestic actors is relevant to understanding the persistence of hegemonic forces that endorse democratic principles while shrinking political space. Elections in many countries are no longer an exclusively national concern but are embedded in international relations. Strategies of power in both international and domestic arenas influence the nature of power relations. However disputed the nature of elections, actors on the ground must maintain diplomatic relations while pursuing their political objectives. The Ethiopian regime interacts with external democracy-promoters in ways that weaken the democratic enterprise while strengthening the regime itself. Such goals are accomplished in the following three ways.
This dimension involves employing discourses of democracy-promotion in the interaction between international and national actors. In this phase, the Ethiopian regime uses a strategy of advancing its position on the international scene while protecting the domestic sphere through practices of inclusion, exclusion, and fostering divisions among international actors. At best, the regime seeks inclusion in the international system by implementing accepted indicators of a democratic system, such as holding national elections and inviting international observers.
Full Article: Ethiopia’s electoral manoeuvres | openDemocracy.