10 August 2018

Ethiopia: Few but Big-Tent Parties

Political parities represent the interest of the public and serve as a bridge between the public and government--but fragmented parties are more pitfalls than options to both voters and a country.

The number of Ethiopian political parties operating both home and abroad is excessively large thus politicians should plan ways of downsizing the parties' number to a few but competent ones in order to enhance the democratization process of the country.

A country, home to over a hundred-million people, is sure to host a range of interests which may be closely matched by the existence of a number of political parties. That means the increasing number of political parties seems to help address the needs and interests of the larger public. But this is unrealistic on the ground.

If we see, for instance, in terms of the required supplies which are important to run the day-to-day activities of the parties, the fragmentation causes the dwindling of the share of subsidies the government may allocate for parties. In the same vein, potential members that could financially support the parties also thin as the parties' number increases.

In addition, competent politicians, scholars would be scattered here and there based on trivial differences of interests, hence, the human capital of parties attenuates substantially, crippling the effort of democracy and democratization.

We have now more than 22 national and 40 regional political parties. The size is sure to expand as parties established and operated abroad, estimated to be over 60, have started entering home.

The increasing number would also create confusion among the electorate--a disadvantage even to the parties themselves.

But it does not end there; the fragmentation could even go to impede the making of important policy decisions. There should be consensus on major national issues and values, but the division leads to tarnishing each others' programs, policies and strategies.

One of the most important platforms to promote parties programs is the media. And in fact competing political parties have the right to access state-owned mass media during election campaigns. However, a number of political parties could amount to insignificant airtime and space allocated to them--again an obstacle to the building of democracy.

Thus, it is imperative to reconcile interests and form big-tent parties.

The people of Ethiopia have priorities to be attained in the short, medium and long term. At this very time, there is an undeniable need for unity, justice, democracy and equality. These are existential questions.

And it is the absence of these same issues that led the country to series of unrest in the past years. Therefore, strong parties that bring the people together, to single-mindedly work for the prosperity of the country, are dearly important. Equally, parties that have sound policy options and those which could drive the people's diversity of knowledge, culture, language and the like to a better end could easily win the hearts and minds of many.

The reform effort of Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed and his administration can bear fruits if big parties come to the scene. For this to happen, far-sighted politicians are so crucial. Parties that they will establish or even those already established should come together.

The politicians have responsibilities of understanding the interest of the wider people, leaving aside minor and yet personal interests of individuals.

For this to happen, the government has to keep on its historic task of widening the political space.


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