11 November 2012

Ethiopia: Democracy Gains Momentum


Addis Abeba has added a newly emerging political culture to its already existing surprising features. The multicultural city, viewed as center for finance, politics, manufacturing and entertainment, with the multitude interests of its heterogeneous residents, used to cast its vote fairly in relative terms till 2005.

It waved a large-size vote of its national share to the political parties that were ages apart from each other, in both of the past two national elections.

It generously voted for a very young coalition of mini-size political parties, though it took the City only five years to turn its back on the opposition and usher its old recipient of votes excessively.

This political trend is unusual, especially in a city hosting groups with irreconcilable and conflicting interests, as ordinarily elections should end in a neck to neck result as a reflection of the same.

The overall aspects of opposition political parties, including their formation, puzzle me. There must be a real popular demand or grievance to give birth to a political party, I believe. Forming a party to shine in a circle of one's own would obviously not pay back well.

For instance, an old American political party, namely the Federalist Party, was formed due to the large public demand to strengthen the then young federal government. It is fair to say that, at least, some of the political parties have not come to the political scene this way.

Despite a two decades long effort and political row, sometimes with sad ending, our fair nation has not yet enjoyed the taste of even a dual party system, let alone a multiparty one. A half-decade old survey labeled Ethiopiaas a dominant party state despite the existence of tens of registered political parties.

The US, like Russia, does not meet the definition of effective multiparty political system. One party controlled Japan's government for 48 years in a row. But the world's third largest economy is a multiparty state that holds democratic competitive elections.

India, for example, has three main national parties: the Congress party, Bharatiya Janta Party, and the Communist Party. The Indian National Congress Party has governed the country for three-fourth of the time since its independence from Britain in 1947, under a de facto one party system and now, under a dominant-party system.

India's democracy is not truly a multiparty one but it has not prevented it from having a democratic government.

Thus, democracy is not about the number of political parties in a given system.

What is the cause of this institutional dwarfism on the part of the Ethiopian opposition, then?

Sometimes Ethiopia's opposing parties are off the wall.

I remember reading reports about opposition figures paying visit to Eritrea , whose government took the initiative for an unnecessary war that incurred our fair nation well over half a billion dollar, in addition to the tens of thousands of lives. If politics dictates, there could be no national enemy toEthiopiathan the Eritrean government.

How come Ethiopian oppositions who aspire to govern the country align with the enemy of the nation? Do they oppose the nation itself, the government or the incumbent?

Whatever their interest, they could never be allowed to be opposed to the nation. This is a stereotype of a rebellion not an opponent as the latter needs to be more disciplined.

An opponent has to give priority to the national interest rather than compromising it for its power quest.

Arguably, there is a popular misconception on the democratic nature of the 2005 national election. It was not a democratic one as there were two fundamental components that were missing - intelligent electorate and adequate number of responsible, capable, and experienced candidates.

The popular election was rather the most competitive one of all held so far. It fails every test of democratic election standards, however. Even the result was evident for its undemocratic nature.

The opposition lacked the integrity of a politician as they longed for power knowing their inability. They abused the uninformed, inexperienced, non-tolerant, and emotional electorate with the help of their innovative, destructive approach.

The electorate was an easy prey for the unprofessional and power seeking opposition politicians. It was all unprofessional!

They even could not manage themselves let alone the nation with various irreconcilable problems.

Conventional knowledge tells us that a political party can run office only when it is well-structured, longsighted and realistic. It ought to cater alternatives not only for urban dwellers but also for the rural residents.

Even the upcoming election, I expect, is not going to be democratic as the prerequisites for the same are absent today. Two years are not enough to build them.

An opposition party should not make winning election its priority unless it has the certainty to handle the office responsibly and competently.

Career politicians need to have selflessness. Politics is not about individual gain or status but about living for national interest.

The other wrong calculus that Ethiopian political oppositions do is the useless points they make on the basic pillars of the Constitution. After all, the Constitution is already ingrained in the society. They should have rather focused on implementing the same not promising an amendment.

The opposition camp is essential to consolidate democracy but it needs to take its time to organise itself in a well-structured manner to stabilise its internal politics before it tries to offer democracy to the society.

In addition, they ought to be loyal to the Ethiopian national interest. They need to make sure that they are with a better capacity to run the nation, at least in a better way, if not the best one, when they come to office.

Appealing to the diaspora community, rather than convincing the local electorate, would pay nothing. The opposition needs to have a strong local base which is the real source of their strength. The misinformed diaspora is helpless even for its own causes.

May be the opposition camp had better shed off the old school thoughts with their faded fashion, as the Revolutionary Democrats are doing, and fill itself up with a new energy that could compete with the reenergized new generation of their rejuvenating counterpart.

Otherwise, they remain to be many littles composing miniatures without a meaningful role.

By then, the capital city would end its growing trend of waving absolute majority vote and fairly spare it to the contenders. It is when there are choices that the cause that a multiparty system stands for could be served.

Tagel Getahun is a legal advocate.

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