What's Next for TPLF? (Befqadu Hailu)

What’s Next for TPLF?

Befqadu Hailu

TPLF’s decision to hold an election in time came a little too late. No one expects that the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE), whose accountability is to the House of People’s Representative (HPR), will help them run the election.  House of People’s Federation (HoF) has already decided it is the HoPR that will blow the last whistle to decide when the next general and regional election should run (well, after the health institutions announced that COVID is no more a threat.)
Can Tigray Run its Own Election in Time?
If TPLF is really committed to doing the election, the first thing to do is to establish an independent electoral commission. This needs a fair time. A law establishes the commission must be drafted and approved by the regional council, the institution needs to have space, people, and structure in due time. Then, it should register political parties that function in the region. Then, introduce the election schedule – which includes voters’ registration, competitors’ campaign, voting day, etc.
There are also so many logistic issues to deal with, such as election items purchasing, printing, and distribution. Poll station mapping, poll workers mobilization, etc. Plus, there is COVID; every activity needs extra caution and cost. No one can plan and execute all these in the following four months. For comparison, the schedule for Sidama Referendum was announced by the end of August (29) and the referendum was held three and half months later (on November 17, 2019). Tigray needs a minimum of six months to establish the commission and hold a logistically sound election, putting all the other issues of legitimate necessities aside. This is all if it is able to cover the budget, which again in comparison to the Sidama referendum, might amount to 100 million birr. It would be naïve to expect the Federal government would cover that cost too.
Due to these factors, it is easy to guess that Tigray will not hold the election in time. If not, why then TPLF rushed to promise to deliver an election that it can’t? Would TPLF decide to run the election a few months after the term of the government expired? If an extension of the term is inevitable, why wouldn’t it just accept the federal government’s decision and let NEBE worry about it? Is it because TPLF never compromised in democratic legitimacy and rule of law? No.
There must be another plan. 
Could There be a Plan to Secede Tigray? 
The Secession of Tigray was in the very first manifesto of TPLF but it was later abandoned because it is not a plausible idea. The young Tegarus are really into secession in their recent rhetoric, ‘due to anti-Tigrean sentiment in Ethiopia’. It is not naïve to expect some or many people may want Tigray’s secession while it is equally naïve to think secession is best for Tigray.
First of all, the people of Tigray are socially and economically interdependent with the rest of Ethiopians. This wouldn’t have been a concerning matter if the two communities could have a smooth relationship after separation. If it happens, like almost all separations, there will be bitter relationship and potential military aggression between the two sovereigns after separation, which will mostly put Tigray in a disadvantaged position. The region is currently surrounded by a hostile environment. Even though there is a magnification of TPLF’s guerilla fights from three decades ago, that is just history and was a successful campaign because of many reasons including the strategic alliance it could forge with Eritrean Liberation Front, EPLF.
Technically, to secede Tigray, 2/3rd of the regional council is expected to approve the decision and it is the responsibility of the federal government to run a referendum in three years of time. Voting for secession is the easiest thing Tigray’s council can do at this time. But, it is the most consequential one. Ethiopia is an economically centralized country with a monopoly of the federal government running the show. Since the federal government is in no position to take such kind of quests for secession, one can safely assume that it will decide to cut budget and communication to paralyze the regional state, which in fact, will be consequential, too, as it will affect the entire population of the region in collateral damage. This way there will be no winners but misery and chaos.
Secession is, therefore, not a plausible idea and a sane person does not expect TPLF would make such a decision under this dangerous scenario. Even Getachew Reda has given a clue, in his latest statement to Tigray TV, that there won’t be a new sovereign state in the region. He said there will be a relationship based on mutual respect resembling the one existed between Somalia warlords. The hopelessness in the statement indicates the last resort is making the region stateless. But, in any case, formal secession is not in the table yet.
So, there still must be another plan. 
Can TPLF Get Allies to Change the Game? 
Tigray’s Deputy President Debretsion told media that they will not have backdoor negotiation with Prosperity Party after he was visited by the elderlies recently. This sounds like TPLF wanted to use this chance to expand the opportunity to may have a grand bargain. I don’t know what TPLF aims to gain from a grand bargain that involves all actors in Ethiopia. But, one thing is apparent: if not return to the center, revenge against their former comrades who are responsible for marginalizing TPLF.
A grand bargain may be possible in only one way. There is rising resentment in Oromia against the central government. The difference is that in Tigray, it is the regional government that is opposing the federal government, while in Oromia, it is the opposition groups who do not have structural control that is opposing the regional as well as the federal governments. However, the oppositions with strong support are from Oromia, this lack of structural support would undermine their voice. TPLF, therefore, might lend a hand to these opposition groups hoping to form a strong alliance to win over Prosperity Party to force for and if grand bargain happens. The only obstacle for TPLF, under this scenario, is its own reputation. The constituency of opposition groups in Oromia has had a bad experience in relation to TPLF, and there is no potentially strong alliance to be formed between the two due to these serious issues of trust.
So, again, no. TPLF must have another plan.
OR, maybe, it doesn’t. 
TPLF has been randomly acting in a suicidal manner for the past number of years. And, I believe, this is one of those non-sense moves. The only regret I have in all this drama is that TPLF is using the people of Tigray as a hostage to try to score a point.
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