By Daniel Teferra (PhD)*
The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) believes, based on its preliminary survey, that Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) will handily win this year’s national election.
A reporter asked someone, who voted for EPRDF why he voted for the group. The man answered, “I voted for EPRDF because it is the government.” This is a rational answer. If the government is in charge of everything and EPRDF controls the government, it is logical for people to vote for EPRDF.
It is foolhardy to believe that EPRDF won because of its economic record. In fact, In Ethiopia, standard of living has been declining. One woman, after voting for EPRDF, complained about the economic hardship to a reporter diplomatically. She said, “Everything under this government is very, very good. It is just the economy that needs a little bit more attention.” EPRDF will continue to win, no matter what, as long as it controls the government.
In 1991, the Tigray Liberation Front (TPLF) upon taking state power, formed Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and has since controlled the government. This is different from the practice in democratic societies. For instance, in the United States of America, political parties and the government are separate. A political party in America runs the government when it wins a national election. It relinquishes power when it loses an election. Political power ultimately rests with the people. Therefore, America’s government is democratic.
In a democratic government, property and power are decentralized. Consequently, people are free to make their own independent decisions. The state belongs to the people and elections give the people voice in government. Succession of leadership is peaceful.
On the other hand, in a regime government like the one in Ethiopia, property and power are monopolized by a non-working elite group due to possessing a military might. Consequently, the people are not free to make their own independent decisions. There is a gap between the people and the state. Fig leaf elections are common. The people have no voice in government. The ruling group maintains state power through repression. Succession of leadership is often violent. Ethiopia’s history is replete with examples.
During the period leading up to this year’s election, there have been numerous reports about harassments and intimidations of the opposition parties by EPRDF. These should be expected. A regime government will not relinquish its monopoly over resources and power willingly. During an election debate with opposition parties, the regime was the only one that was opposed to privatization of land.
There is a lesson to be learned by the opposition political parties from all these. And that is, there has to be first and foremost a democratic state in Ethiopia for elections to be free and fair. The question, therefore, for any political party is whether its primary goal should be to wrestle state power out of the hands of EPRDF or to democratize the state. Competition for state power will not democratize Ethiopia. It will extend EPRDF’s control for many more years or create another regime government.
Many Ethiopians complain that the opposition political parties are not united to be an effective countervailing power. This may be true. But it is logical to ask why they are not united. Some in Ethiopian politics blame lack of trust among the political parties for the problem. This is not a convincing argument.
The real reason for the lack of unity is that most of Ethiopia’s politicians compete for the same thing—that is, to take state power. Unfortunately, they are still relying on an outdated EPLF/TPLF model. A paradigm shift is necessary, especially by the non-Tigray/Amhara political groups who are struggling for territories rather than rights. There will be unity among Ethiopia’s political groupings if their focus is to struggle for equal rights. There will be no democratic unity among Ethiopia’s politicians if one group denies the others the rights it demands for itself. Only unity based on equal rights can create democracy in Ethiopia. This will free the government from control by a single group like EPRDF and thereby create a level playing field for all.
*Emeritus Professor of Economics at FSU; firstname.lastname@example.org; UW-Whitewater.