Power’s ordeals: Unchewed and/or ill-digested governance under Ethiopia’s dominant party

2 Nov

Editor’s Note:

    The problem in Ethiopia is that politicians have become adept at continuing to work on the separation between words and deeds. Call it the dominant party or the dictatorship, I regret to say, the more I listen to our leaders the more I find it hard to believe a word they say.

    Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in particular seems in competition with his mentor’s record of lies and misrepresentation of facts. Meles used to dabble with that a lot anytime he saw openings to serve his political powers and sectarian interests.

    In a short time since he became a caretaker prime minister, Hailemariam has also won the dubious honor of perfecting fabricating stories and false claims as his art and means of political survival, which is less likely to last him long.

    Recently, The Reporter criticized him of exaggerating numbers, figures and situations.

    On the state’s seat as Chief Executive and as a front for the ruling Front (TPLF/EPRDF), he seems to be presiding over completion of the processes of total rupture between civil society and government, the rulers and subjects. The main source of power – the army and the security – are coming with new structures, laws rules, as if to date they have been abiding by any laws. Recently, after the promotion of 72 generals in one year, they submitted to parliament draft laws proposing more benefits, housing, transport, increased retirement benefits, as if the entire top brass has not been enriching themselves with more businesses and corruption on the side.

    In the light of all this, I stand by the contents of my article ኢትዮጵያ ወደአደገኛ አግጣጫ እያመራች ነው, written in April 2013. The calm before the storm is the false propaganda the regime has been good at creating, which foreign investors fooled by the high temporary profits they are allowed to reap.

    What is lost is a long-term vision in the country. From my vantage point, I see our country increasingly accelerating toward the tempest.

    For goodness sakes, what else should one expect, among others, when:

      •   Thieves in government preach honesty and integrity?

      •   Sebhat Nega – original architect of Ethiopia’s break-up (Alemseged Abbay:Identity Jilted or Re-Imagined Identity? (1998)) continues to administer the nation with his poisonous words at intervals, words that have already given rise to expulsion of hundreds and thousands of bona fide Ethiopians from places they call home because of their ethnic origin?

      •   People like Hailemariam Desalegn and his TPLF bosses incite the rape and sodomization of political opponents as means of ensuring continuity of their dominant party, as happened to Ato Abebe Akalu of Andinet Party nearly a week ago?

      •   Those in power assume and act accordingly that they have the power to deny or deprive any Ethiopian of his or her citizenship, as if it were a gift received from them? etc.

    The Ethiopia Observatory appreciates The Reporter‘s efforts in delving into this matter to make sense of what Hailemariam has blabored about the dominant party. However, such an effort is wasteful, on the contrary glorifying power grab, political greed, open and systematic violation of human rights and endangerment of the Ethiopian state in the name of development and foreign investments.

    Moreover, foreign interests are reducing the country into neocolonial territory, if one checks out Huawei shoes manufacturers. This is confirmed by French documentary aired on September 29, 2013 on French television (TV 2:) as L’Ethiopie casse les prix – Escalave mderne (rough translation – Modern slavery enables Ethiopia to cut prices)).

    Or is anyone aware that, against the laws of the land, Arba Minch University – Hailemariam’s first experience base – is now with utmost secret slowly moving into becoming the backdoor to genetically-modified transformation (GMOs) of Ethiopian agriculture, where work is underway with maize as the stepping stone?

    Dig a bit further, to see what lies inside the sheath!

    Is this why Ethiopians should need the TPLF, a Front totally allergic to transparency, as the dominant party in perpetuity in our country?


by Asrat Seyoum* – Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory

A recent meeting held at the Prime Minister’s office, located on Lorenzo Taezaz Street, could be considered quite bizarre for someone not well-acquainted with Ethiopian politics.
It was one of those rare occasions where high-profile politicians from the two branches of government – the executive and the legislature – came together outside of the parliamentary building.

Although the discussion covered many pertinent issues, the part where the head of the executive branch urged the legislature to step up its role of monitoring and oversight grabbed the attention of many. Indeed, the statement made by Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn was far from ordinary. Basically, the PM asked for a more challenging House – a place where the activities of his administration would constantly be placed under the microscope. For that unfamiliar observe, many questions come to mind.

The first and most important would be why the leader of the executive branch, who apparently answers to the legislature, urges his overseers to tighten the scrutiny. Could there be a deficit in that regard? Even if there are gaps in monitoring the executive, should the concern not come from the respective constituencies of the members of the House?

Luckily, Hailemariam’s address did provide an explanation to these questions. There seems to be a logical context and back-story to what the PM said about the legislature. The existing political reality in Ethiopia, where the ruling party the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) enjoys an overwhelming 99.6 percent dominance in the lower House, was indeed reason enough for Hailemariam to address the matter at this time. It is the most dominant the party has been in the course of its 21-year rule. Although pundits assert the reverse, previous elections, especially the 2005 national and regional event, gave rise to the notable presence of an opposition camp in parliament.

Recognizing the changing dynamics, Hailemariam’s predecessor, the late Meles Zenawi, hinted in the week of the 2010 election that the country might be heading towards a dominant party democratic system in the near future. As campaign chief for the party at the time, the outcome of the 2010 election had Hailemariam’s fingerprints all over it. “As the dominant party in the parliament it will be our responsibility to make sure that the concern of the people is heard in the House,” he told parliamentarians. What he clearly meant was that the lack of adequate representation of the opposition should not curtail the plurality of opinion in the House. Rather, it is Hailemariam’s belief that the House should be a place of debate; a place where the system of check and balance can be effectively put to work.

Second best democracy

Although there could be no reasonable objection to what the PM was proposing, one cannot help but wonder why he made his case at this particular time. From his explanation, it can easily be discerned that Hailemariam has given up hope of a multi-party system in Ethiopia, where strong political parties, including his own, can alternate in power. He told the gathering that there is no question Ethiopia is heading towards a dominant party system. Thus, the responsibility of keeping the sanctity of the House as a forum, where the general public can be heard, rests on the ruling party politicians, the PM underscored.

Furthermore, it can be understood that the debate is no more about the political system that the country is trying to build. It seems that time has run out for that one. It looks like Hailemariam’s concern is all about dealing with the existing political reality.

How did things get here? Broadly speaking, scholars are divided as to what precipitated the evolution of a dominant party system in the country. Some strongly argue that it was the grand design of the party to establish an unchallenged political hegemony from the very start. This group say that the federalism system, based on ethnic-lines, was part of this plan to perpetuate EPRDF’s power. On the flip side, there are those who assert that it was rather the effort of the ruling party to build suitable conditions for the existing system that helped to maintain its influence. Professor Andreas Eshete is one such scholar. He says that EPRDF’s dominance is the only logical outcome, since the federal system that was put in place would favor such a party. However, Andreas rejects the premise that EPRDF has built the system only to ascertain its perpetuation in power; any other party with a similar set up can contest for power at any time.

Whatever the case, the outcome is a dominant party system under Hailemaram’s party. For the record, almost all the ideological publications of the ruling party in the past few years have tried, in one way or another, to discuss the evolution of democracy in Ethiopia. Sure enough, the party’s position, expressed time and again, indicates that a dominant party democracy is the second best choice for the EPRDF. The Party’s ideological publication, Addis Raey (New Vision), said in a number of publications that it was in the best interest of the nation to have more than one strong party; this is to increase the chance that diverse views are raised in public. For that, it never preferred the dominant party system to a multi-party structure.

Exchange of blame

If political rhetoric is to go by, both the ruling party and the opposition camps do not differ on the type of democratic system they envision for the nation. Yes, both the EPRDF and notable opposition parties in Ethiopia would like to see a more liberal political system, where strong parties would take turns to lead the nation. And both, of course, blame each other for the current turn of events that marked the inevitability of one-party domination.

As far as the EPRDF is concerned, it is the weakness of the opposition that has prevented Ethiopia from having an emerging multi-party system. There is not much debate on the weakness of the opposition parties in Ethiopia, it seems, but there is when it comes to why they are weak. Opposition groups place the blame entirely on the ruling party repression, narrowing the space for political activism. Of course, the fact that a multi-party system in Ethiopia is only 20 years old would definitely weigh on the young opposition parties, not to mention the relative differences in terms of financial resource. This fact is appreciated by both sides, but the feud is about what the ruling party should or could have done?

The theoretical dimension of this debate is also worth looking at. In countries where a dominant party system is starting to take root, the biggest challenge for the ruling party would be to keep the affairs of the government and the party separate. In the case of Ethiopia, during the last two national elections, the primary concern for observers in Ethiopia was the unlawful use of state property for party campaigning.

The most important question here is, why would sharing resources between the ruling party and the government even be an issue? It is simply because it would be undemocratic for the incumbent party to use state (taxpayers’) properties to ensure a continuation of its tenure in power. This is not even about the dominant party; the concept seems to be true for any system. Similarly, dominant parties in such political systems do not only have to keep their hands out of the state coffers, but they also have to make sure to provide the service that is expected, even to the citizens who did not vote for them. Still further, the dominant party has to offer proper support to the opposition parties, whether it likes it or not.

Hence, thinking of the responsibilities of the dominant party, it could easily be discerned that the ruling party in a dominant party system would be responsible for the nurture of the opposition camp as part of the process of democratization. To this effect, Mushe Semu, a well-known local politician, says that part of the present opposition camp weaknesses could be attributed to weaknesses of the dominant party itself. “It is our right to get support from the government, which should not be confused with the party,” he argues. Although Mushe did not deny the structural weaknesses in the opposition camp, scholars like Kasahun Berhanu (Ph.D.), political science lecturer at Addis Ababa University, believe that the dominance of the EPRDF is a combination of both a weak and fragmented opposition and a ruling party shirking away from its responsibility to support them. Kasahun says that as much as the opposition camp is weak, the ruling party is also using this weakness to justify not helping them; and that is the main factor for the emergence of a dominant party system in Ethiopia.

Partner and competitor

Of course, constitutional provision allowed the operation of political parties since the early days of EPRDF’s ascendancy to power. However, the development of the political environment has rendered the legal provision ineffective since then. And now it seems that the ruling party itself is admitting that a dominant party democracy is the de facto system. However, Mushe feels a multi-party system was never in place in Ethiopia. Breakthrough democratic experiences like the 2005 election notwithstanding, Mushe argues that the EPRDF has always been the dominant party and it has never opened its doors for cooperation with other parties. The EPRDF, for its part, contends that it never closed the door on working with the opposition camp.

This, in fact, leads to the important issue of striking a balance between the dominant party’s responsibility to create favorable conditions for opposition parties, and its desire to defeat them as political opponents. Party publications have frequently dwelt on this issue. They have covered in great length why the EPRDF could not work with the opposition camp, with the main reason cited as the question of continuity. The EPRDF argues that most of the opposition parties in Ethiopia do not believe in the constitutionally guaranteed federalist state structure. And hence, it would be counter-productive to support a party working to reverse the political system that it fought tooth and nail to protect.

And this is another controversial stance. According to Mushe, as long as political forces ascend to power via constitutional means, there should no reason why they cannot make changes to the political environment. He say that as long as it is the will of the people to pick opposition party to introduce change, it will be undemocratic to stand in the way. Meanwhile, the EPRDF says that making changes to the basic structure of the country is as good as taking the nation back twenty years.

*Source: The Reporter: Settling for dominant party system; whose fault is it?

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