I express my gratitude for the opportunity afforded to me to express my Government's view. I have prepared a short document which reflects the position of the Government. I will read it out to convey the Government's views on development in Ethiopia, particularly following the May election.
It is to be recalled that on 15 May 2005, the first openly contested elections in Ethiopia's history were held, with some 35 parties vying for seats. The pre-election period saw open and unprecedented public debates between the ruling party and the opposition parties. On election day, voting was remarkably peaceful according to international observers, and voter participation was high.
However, in the election aftermath, the country was faced with major challenges posed by some hardline opposition leaders under the guise of allegations of voting irregularities and vote rigging. Leaders of one opposition party, CUD, called its members and supporters to take part in street action and insurrections to realise its aim of bringing the Government to its knees. These street actions and insurrections, carried out under the full instruction and guidance of CUD leaders, regrettably resulted in the deaths of civilians and security personnel, and further loss of Government, public and private properties.
It must be frankly stated that long before the election, it was clearly understood that the leaders of the CUD were not ready to engage in the electoral process peacefully or to contribute to making the election a success. During the run-up to the election, they made it clear in their election manifesto that their objective in participating in the election was not to win seats, but rather to use the opportunity to mobilise the people to change the constitutional order.
Their main problem is the country's basic constitution, and not the ruling party. The current constitution is a complete redefinition of Ethiopia from its past. The Government is under no illusion that the CUD will accept the new reality created following the overthrow of the previous military junta. However, its position is clear and unambiguous. If the CUD wants to reverse the present reality it must only do so through peaceful means.
The opposition alleged that fraud in vote counting took place, despite the fact that everybody agreed it won more seats than expected. In order to address the allegations of voting irregularities, an extremely arduous and protracted process of investigation and verification was carried out outside of the regular election system. The ruling party and the opposition negotiated and agreed to institute mechanisms for the investigation of election complaints, which were conducted for several weeks. Accordingly, the National Election Board investigated complaints in 140 constituencies, and elections were re-run at several voting stations.
The final results showed a victory for the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, EPRDF. The opposition won 175 of the 547 seats in Parliament, compared with only 14 seats previously, and gained complete control of the Addis Ababa city administration. However, the opposition hardliners refused to take up their seats in Parliament or to administer the Addis Ababa city administration.
Following the cycle of street violence and insurrections in Addis Ababa and other areas of the country incited by CUD hardliners, most of the elected parliamentarians who won seats on the CUD ticket have joined the Parliament. Only a few of the party leaders, who face criminal charges, remain outside the Parliament.
At first, the Government restrained itself from taking legal measures against those conspiring to illegally overthrow the constitutional system. However, when they instigated violence to advance their objective of snatching power through violence and dismantling the constitutional system, the Government had no alternative, as it is the Government's responsibility to protect the constitutional system from hardliners when the constitution is publicly attacked.
Those hardliners facing criminal charges were brought before the court within 48 hours as per the law. All were charged in an open court and the court proceedings were facilitated in a transparent manner. Access to their lawyers and family members has been fully granted. The Ethiopian Government has made it absolutely clear to friendly countries, and the international community at large, that interfering in the judicial process for the release of the hardliners should never be contemplated. Releasing them by interfering in the judicial process would be illegal and unlawful. These people are detained as a result of their actions, not for their political view.
The Ethiopian Government is doing its level best to address some of the problems which surfaced during the post-election era. These are mainly parliamentary procedures, the National Election Board, and the media. Accordingly, it is trying to address the opposition's concern by committing itself to reviewing the parliamentary processes on the basis of the experiences of some established democracies.
An international consultant, previously working with the National Election Board, will publish a report detailing the weaknesses of the NEB. The consultants will suggest solutions based on best practice. The same is also true for laws regarding the press. On completion of the study, a draft press law will be prepared through dialogue and negotiation among the parties who participate in the Parliament, and will then be submitted to the House.
The Government established an independent commission of inquiry to investigate whether the security forces used excessive force in endeavouring to maintain law and order. Unfortunately, the image of the country recently portrayed abroad has been extremely negative. This is for a number of reasons.
The opposition has a massive network of support among the diaspora who are well educated and well connected. These are people who lost something with the demise of the previous regimes. Leaders of the local human right groups, civil societies and NGOs have abandoned impartiality and politically allied themselves with the opposition. I refer only to the local NGOs and not the international ones.
The EU-EOM chief observer failed to maintain strict impartiality, as per the agreement signed with the Ethiopian Government, in the conduct of her duties. She finally abandoned her pretence of neutrality and openly and officially campaigning for the opposition further complicated the matter. There was a failure of the Ethiopian Government in explaining its actions and views. It was always dependent on the truth rather than carrying out a successful public relations campaign.
Despite concerns by development partners, including Ireland, over post-election violence, the May election has been recognised as a turning point in the country's drive for democracy which started more than a decade ago. It is glaringly obvious that the cycle of violence and street actions that have raged the capital were incited and stirred primarily by the politicians for their political ends. However, the presence of unemployed youth in towns, as a result of the cumulative effect of socio-economic problems, created fertile ground to aggravate further the political unrest. In this respect, full economic assistance from Ireland is very much required to deal with the root of the crisis.
When the incumbent government took hold of political power 14 years ago, the country had a completely devastated economy, including an under-developed infrastructure. Civil war, in tandem with command economic policies during the dictatorial regime, had ravaged the existing infrastructure and devastated the economy.
Given the financial resources needed to achieve the goals set down by the Ethiopian Government in the poverty reduction strategy, financial support must increase dramatically. Ethiopia's aid flow lags far behind others countries in the region. It is approximately $13 per person compared with an average of $23 per person in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. This shows that Ethiopia's aid flow is almost 50% less than that of other sub-Saharan African countries.
Despite all these difficulties, however, thanks to Irish and other development partners' support, the economy is doing quite well. We expect double digit economic growth in 2005-06, for the third year in a row. We also expect to pass the billion dollar mark in external trade this year. Furthermore, foreign investment has continued to flow, access to primary education has increased from 20% 13 years ago to 79.2% in 2004-05 and health coverage has increased to 82.9% from 41% five years ago.
It is true that democracy has been a recent development in Ethiopia but in the past 13 years, we have made significant progress. We are undoubtedly heading in the right direction. I would like to reconfirm that there is no possibility of the democratic process in Ethiopia being reversed. We are all convinced that the only way to keep the country together is by accommodating diversity and the only way to do that is through democracy.