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Saturday, January 24, 2015

All theories expounding human and democratic rights come to the conclusion that the right of individuals to elect their representatives is an exercise of one of the fundamental rights set out in the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR). In short, the right to vote is an inalienable element of human rights.
Voting is one of the vital instruments by which citizens can influence the policies and strategies of governments. Just as they cause contesting political parties to bite their nails in anticipation on the eve of elections, the electorate forces them to display transparency, responsibility and accountability when they hold the reins of power. The vote of citizens therefore is essential in building such a civilized and democratic system of governance.
Though Ethiopia’s democratization process has been mired in seemingly intractable problems, four general elections have been held over the past twenty years with only four months to go before the fifth edition come around. Given that democracy is a work in progress, that there is no alternative superior to peaceful political struggle to achieve one’s political objectives and that the only means by which a change in government can be effected is through the ballot box, political parties and other stakeholders need to be guided by these critical considerations.
The UDHR provides that elections must be transparent and should ensure the participation of the public. Elections which possess this attribute are not only pivotal in the establishment of a people-centered government but also serve as a cornerstone for the respect of human and democratic rights. Democracy is all about securing the will of the people, which can be expressed genuinely through elections alone. That is why it is incumbent upon all political parties to mobilize eligible voters to cast their ballots as elections come around.
Insofar as elections are a mechanism by which citizens freely choose their representatives either directly or directly, it is not up to one side only to mobilize the electorate to vote. If elections are to be free and democratic, contesting parties should strive to eliminate impediments as well as urge voters to register and turn up on Election Day. The present-day reality in Ethiopia, however, leaves much to be desired. Aside from the calls made by the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) and the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) through various means urging voters to register on time, opposition parties have been found wanting in rallying the electorate to their cause. Unless they do their utmost to persuade citizens who can potentially vote for them to register in large numbers, they cannot garner the vote they need to win the upcoming elections. 
The NEBE announced that out of an estimated pool of 35 million potential voters, over 23 million had registered by the beginning of this week. Though this figure is already inching upwards, the lethargy displayed by opposition parties in particular in exhorting voters to get hold of their registration card is a cause for concern. Once a party has decided to run in the elections, it is obliged to marshal the electorate to exercise their right to vote and be governed by representatives they choose.
All advocates of human rights agree that each and every political party vying to form a government must respect and ensure the free exercise of the right to vote of citizens. Naturally while doing so the parties should make no distinction of any kind based on race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. It’s precisely because the right to vote is a universal right that its exercise should not be abridged for any reason whatsoever. 
Although the playing field is full of pitfalls for those engaged in the game of politics, although the political space is constricted, and although the culture of constructive dialogue between political parties is practically non-existent, it is imperative to pay the necessary sacrifice and do away with these testing challenges. In view of the fact that the principle of give-and-take is a feature of politics, it is a mark of modernity to refrain from a mutually harmful political struggle and endeavor to make sure that democracy takes root. This can be accomplished by, among others things, respecting the right of the public to participate in the affairs which affect its interest.
Needless to say, urging the electorate to register for the polls is just the start of election campaigning for political parties. Actually they can use the period during which voters are expected to register to bring undecided or apathetic voters to their side and secure valuable votes. It’s amazing that most opposition parties are not taking advantage of an opportunity they should not pass up.
It is baffling why a political party which reiterates that it aspires to win power does not to engage in electioneering and yet covet for votes. Opposition groups which always bemoan that they are subjected to different forms of harassment and intimidation at the hands of the NEBE and the ruling party must never lose sight of the fact that elections are an integral part of a win-win political struggle; they have to realize that regardless of the difficulties they may face they should contribute their share to the building of a stable multi-party democracy that is underpinned by the genuine expression of the will of the people through free, fair, democratic and credible elections.
Several developing countries are joining the rank of nations in which state power is assumed through elections alone. Elections can be free and fair when voters are be able to cast their ballots freely. Political parties play a vital role in rallying the public to exercise its right to vote and demonstrate that it is the decisive actor in the political process. After all, a democratic election is unthinkable without public participation.