In nearly all constitutional systems, the highest state authority is said to be vested in the people. These people exercise authority through elections. Election is one of the systems that allow citizens to compete and participate in their respective country’s political decisions. Therefore, “democracy is about political participation, the ability of the citizens to express their preferences freely and without intimidation, and how this is guaranteed according to a given institutional framework and jurisdictional powers.”[i]
An election is not a one-day activity. It is an outcome of cycles divided into three periods of election: pre-election period, election period, and post-election period. The pre-election period constitutes drafting election laws and procedures, establishing Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs), delimiting boundaries/constituencies, voters, parties and candidates’ registration, and campaigning period. The election period contains the voting process-election day, while the post-election period constitutes vote counting and results.
Based on this background, let us jump to the framework of Ethiopia’s electoral institution.
The framework of Ethiopia’s Electoral Institutions
1. Electoral Rule and regulations
Both the federal and regional constitutions provide for periodic democratic elections. Currently, elections in Ethiopia are governed by the 1995 Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE) Constitution, the Regional Constitutions, the 2019 National Electoral Board of Ethiopia Establishment Proclamation (Proclamation No.1133/2019) and the 2019 proclamation of the Ethiopian Electoral, Political Parties Registration and Election’s Code of Conduct Proclamation (Proclamation No. 1162/2019).[ii]
In Ethiopia, there are five types of elections: general election, local election, by-election, re-election and referendum. The general election is an election for both the House of Representatives and regional State Councils, which must be held simultaneously.[iii] The local election is elections to Zonal, Woreda, City Municipality and Sub-City, or Kebele councils. By-election is an election held to replace a representative who left his/her position for whatever reason before the end of his/her term of office. Re-election is an election held either because NEBE or the Federal High Court decided to cancel the election outcome or when candidates receive equal votes. A referendum is voting conducted to assess the public interest or know the public’s decision based on a decision made under the 1995 Constitution or other relevant laws. The electoral system is the first-past-the-post system for all elections i.e., a candidate who gets the highest number of votes among the contestants will be declared the winner.[iv]
2. Electoral Management Body: The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE)
Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs) are part of the framework of electoral institutions responsible for organizing, coordinating and overseeing the electoral process. EMBs implement the electoral rules and regulations, oversee the electoral process, and ensure the election is held without irregularities. In some countries, EMBs could also be in charge of adjudicating electoral-related disputes. For the electoral process to be peaceful, EMBs have an immense contribution. EMBs should have credibility and independence; otherwise, the stakeholders of the election will not trust the electoral process, which in turn might lead to electoral violence. The nature of EMBs varies from one country to another country.
In Ethiopia, the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) is in charge of managing any elections in Ethiopia, including issuing directives, certifying and officially announcing election results, and providing administrative relief for complaints raised in the course of an election.[v] Since its establishment, the Board has managed five general elections, two local elections, and six referendums.[vi]The current NEBE is established based on Proclamation No.1133/2019. The Board consists five members who are appointed by the House of Representatives upon nomination by the Prime Minister for six years term of office (the members can be re-appointed for an additional one term). For the nomination process, the Prime Minister has to establish eight members independent Committee. This independent Committee comprises one representative from the Inter-Religious Council of Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences, the Ethiopian Confederation of Employees, the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, and three representatives from civil societies and Elders.[vii] The current chairperson of NEBE, Birtukan Mideksa, was appointed by the House of Representatives on November 22, 2018. The other four members, namely Bizuwork Ketete, Dr. Getahun Kassa, Abera Degefu, and Wubshet Ayele, were appointed on June 13, 2019.[viii] The Board has regional offices in all nine regions (except the new Sidama Region) and the two federal cities, Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa.
3. Electoral Dispute Resolution Institutions
Electoral dispute resolution institutions are an essential part of the framework of electoral institutions. Their primary purpose is to peacefully settle electoral disputes that might arise during the electoral cycle. As per Proclamation No.1133/2019 and Proclamation No. 1162/2019, there are different ways to settle electoral disputes in Ethiopia.
According to Proclamation No.1133/2019, NEBE is entitled to provide administrative relief for complaints raised in the course of an election. Thus, the Polling Station Grievance Hearing Committee[ix] is in charge of making decisions on complaints related to voter registrations, voting, vote counting, and results. In case of dispute over candidate registration, the complaint should be submitted to the Constituency Grievance Hearing Committee. If the disputing party over voter registration or voting is dissatisfied with the Polling Station Grievance Hearing Committee’s decision, then the disputing party can apply to the competent federal or regional Court. For complaints about candidate registration, if the Constituency Grievance Hearing Committee fails to decide within seven days or if the disputing party is dissatisfied with the Committee’s decision, then the disputing party is entitled to submit its complaints to the Regional Supreme Court. [x]
In case of complaints on vote counting and results, if the disputing party is dissatisfied with the Polling Station Grievance Hearing Committee’s decision, then the disputing party can apply to the Constituency Grievance Hearing Committee. If the disputing party is still dissatisfied, then he/she can apply to the Board within five days of the Constituency Grievance Hearing Committee decision. The Board is entitled to investigate the complaint and give a decision within ten days. If the Board fails t give a decision within ten days or the disputing party is dissatisfied with the Board’s decision, he/she is entitled to submit their complaint to the Federal Supreme Court within ten days of receiving the Board’s decision. The Federal Supreme Court must adjudicate the electoral dispute within one month.[xi]
In Short, every electoral related complaint should be submitted in writing. NEBE is in charge of making administrative decisions. However, the Board’s final administrative decisions may be appealed to the Federal High Court, and final decisions concerning the electoral process and results may be appealed to the Federal Supreme Court.[xii]
[i] Salih M.A.,. 2001. “African Democracies and African Politics”. London: Pluto Press. P.3
[ii] The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) is still adopting different regulations and directives based on the 2019 proclamation of the Ethiopian Electoral, Political Parties Registration and Election’s Code of Conduct Proclamation (Proclamation No. 1162/2019). For instance, on January 6, 2020, NEBE approved the political parties registration regulation.
[iii] Proclamation No. 1162/2019, Article 7.
[iv] Proclamation No. 1162/2019, Article 4.
[v] The 1995 FDRE Constitution, Article 102; Proclamation No.1133/2019, Article 7-8.
[vii] See Article 5 and 6 of Proclamation No.1133/2019 for the details of NEBE board members nomination process.
[viii] On September 28, 2020 the Electoral Board Member Dr. Getahun Kassa resigned and his position is not filled when this article was published.
[ix] The Polling Station Grievance Hearing Committee consists three members: member of the Elections Administration Committee (the chair) and two registered voters in the constituency, who are not members of any political party and known to have good ethics and integrity. The Committee must include one man and one woman (Proclamation No. 1162/2019, Article 15 (10)).
[x] Proclamation No. 1162/2019, Article 27, 152-155.
[xi] Proclamation No. 1162/2019 Article 155; see also Proclamation No.1133/2019, Article 17
[xii] Proclamation No.1133/2019, Article 17