CALL FOR PEACE IN ETHIOPIA -- (House of Representatives - September 28, 2005)
The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Sodrel). Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Kingston) is recognized for 5 minutes.
Mr. KINGSTON. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to discuss democracy and elections in Ethiopia. As this country has been a close ally of the United States in the war on terror, it is critical that we encourage their evolution from monarchy to communism to democracy.
I used to live in Ethiopia as a child, and I lived there when Haile Selassie was the emperor. And even under a monarchy, Ethiopia had a lot of good things going for it. And as they have always been an ally of ours, strangely, we often forget them.
Ethiopia is divided into nine states along linguistic and ethnic lines. It is a 3,000-year-old civilization which until the 1970s was under a monarchy, and then a brutal Marxist junta through him over. Civil war and famines racked the country in the 1980s. Calm finally began to return in 1991 when Meles Zenawi, who assisted in the overthrow of the junta, became president and finally prime minister 4 years later.
Since that time, Ethiopia has participated in a total of three elections. That is three elections in a 3,000-year history.
This past spring, Ethiopia held their second election since the introduction of multiparty politics and the first under international scrutiny. Thirty-five political parties vied for seats in
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the 547 seat lower house of parliament called the Council of People's Representatives. Voters also chose representatives in nine regional state parliaments that will appoint members of parliament's upper house, the Council of the Federation.
Twenty-five million people registered to vote in the election. With 200,000 of those registered to vote living in villages inaccessible by roads, election officials on camels, pack animals, and boats fanned out to distribute ballots in time for the election. The National Electoral Board drafted 38 camels, 65 donkeys, 20 horses and 10 mules to carry election workers, ballots, stamps, counting sheets, and indelible ink to rural parts of a country twice the size of Texas.
In the weeks leading up to the May elections, peaceful mass rallies were held by both the ruling party and opposition parties in Ethiopia's capital of Addis Ababa. At one of the rallies, 250,000 supporters of one of the main opposition parties, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, rallied in the capital's main Meskel Square. A government rally attracted 600,000 people the day before.
One voter, Solomon Aseffa, told reporters that after witnessing two public rallies in two days, democracy finally really was flourishing in Ethiopia. Another resident said that the peaceful rallies were indicative of the increasing political consciousness of the community. An Addis Ababa resident, Fitsum Argaw, urged young people to cast their votes in order to safeguard a democratic system that had been achieved through great sacrifice.
During the campaign, there was unprecedented media access for the opposition. They received equal time on state-run radio and the opportunity to participate in broadcast debates. One main opposition party even launched a text messaging campaign to get out the vote. European observers praised the openness to the run-up to the elections although they admitted that they witnessed intimidating tactics by the ruling party.
Despite the reports of harassment, there was a stunning 90 percent turnout of registered voters. Foreign election observers found out the worst problem had been the crowds, with some waiting for hours just to cast their ballots. A young female economics consultant called it ``a great day because I am able to vote freely and that is a new thing here in Ethiopia.''
The election results showed that while the ruling party held on to a majority, the opposition made major gains. However, opposition parties argued that the process was marred by fraud, intimidation, and violence. After the electric, Prime Minister Zenawi promptly banned all demonstrations for 1 month and assumed control of the capital police.
Sadly, events spiraled out of control after the university students were arrested for defying this ban. Ultimately, 36 people were shot dead by police and thousands were arrested after protests erupted over the election results. This type of bloodshed cannot be allowed to happen again.
This Sunday there is a rally scheduled to take place in Addis Ababa. Members of the main opposition parties, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy and the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces, plan to protest alleged fraud in the May 15 parliamentary elections and call for the formation of a national unity government to supervise new elections.
What we want the folks in Ethiopia to know is that we are behind them in the democratic process. We know it is not perfect, as we are still working on ours; but we wish them success in this great and noble endeavor.
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I would like to take this time to urge peace and calm in Ethiopia. There has already been too much violence and bloodshed in the wake of these elections. However, in an ominous sign, on Monday forty-three members of the opposition were arrested ahead of Sunday's assembly and the branch offices of the opposition parties were raided and are now closed. Authorities have threatened ``severe consequences'' for any illegal acts or violence that occur during Sunday's event.
Mr. Speaker, the path to democracy is never a smooth and easy process. We are seeing that now in Iraq. In Ethiopia, democracy is in its infancy and it must be nurtured along by its leaders.
To that end, I would urge Prime Minister Zenawi and the Ethiopian authorities to allow this rally to occur peacefully. As pre-election rallies were held without violence and bloodshed, post-election rallies should be equally violence and bloodshed-free.
Ethiopia has come so far. From a monarchy followed by suffering under Communism, Ethiopians must be given the opportunity to flourish under the greatest of systems--democracy.
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