Surprising Demands Blamed for Failed EU’s Plan to Observe Ethiopia Election

ADDIS ABABA – The government of Ethiopia said European Union’s preconditions to observe the upcoming general elections in the East African nation were surprising and unnecessary.

Officials of the East African nation said this following the EU’s decision to scrap its plan to send observers to a parliamentary election in Ethiopia next month.

The government of Ethiopia facilitated the EU’s exploratory Mission to the country where it held discussions with various concerned institutions including the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE).

In a statement issued Tuesday, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign affairs said the government’s assessment of the mission’s stay two months ago was “productive”, and efforts were underway to finalize the agreement on the modality of EU observers’ deployment.

“This was the impression the Government obtained from the Mission upon the completion of its work and whose recommendations later on led to the decision by the EU to deploy the observer mission,” it said.

‘Surprising demand’

On Monday, however, the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said the 27-nation bloc would not observe both preparations including voters’ registration and the June 5 vote.

Borrell said Ethiopia’s refusal of the union’s requirements to bring major communication equipment including VSAT services along with its observers as a major reason for the decision not to send the observation mission.

“It is very unfortunate to have learnt that the issue of communications equipment was put forth as a deal-breaker for the EU to observe one of the most hoped-for democratic elections in the country’s history,” Ethiopia’s ministry of Foreign affairs said.

From the beginning of the discussion with the EU, the government has made “it abundantly clear” that VSAT services can only be provided by the Ethio-telecom while accepting additional requests by the EU to import related equipment, according to the ministry.

“As an important strategic partner and staunch supporter of the reform process, this demand by the EU has come as a surprise to the Government of Ethiopia, as none of these elements were a bone of contention in past elections,” it said.

“At a time when the telecommunication infrastructure in Ethiopia has made huge strides employing the latest available technologies,” it said, “questioning the effectiveness and efficiency of its services is not a convincing reason to take the hasty decision of cancelling the mission’s deployment” it added.

EU Wants to play NEBE’s Role?

The ministry also said who should be the first to issue public comments over the election’s preliminary findings was the other main sticking point with the EU.

“In the same vein, the EU has also rejected the proposal by the Ethiopian side to include in the Agreement that statements or public comments by the observer mission prior to the issuance of its preliminary findings and conclusions not be prejudicial to the election process or influence the perception of the public, on the result of the election to be announced only by NEBE,” it said.

“This concern stems from the fact that in the past, such pronouncements by other EU observer missions had serious repercussions on the country as a whole,” the ministry reasons.

The government reiterated its commitment to make the upcoming elections free, fair, and democratic and its determination to continue working with all stakeholders to make it so.

It, however, said “While external observers could add some value to strengthen the quality of electoral processes, they are neither essential nor necessary to certify the credibility of an election”.

“The validity and legitimacy of Ethiopia’s election is determined solely by Ethiopian laws, Ethiopian institutions, and ultimately, by the people of Ethiopia,” the said.

While observing the past six elections, the government said it has never had such a claim from observers, adding every election area “is accessible by the National Telecommunication system, they can use that.”

Ethiopia, a country of 110 million people, will hold parliamentary election on June 5, 2021.