The fifth general election which took place a week ago has yet again rewared the incumbents with a landslide victory, a victory which finally made one veteran opposition politician announce his exit from electoral politics. In announcing his departure, he accused the incumbents of being a mafia group that does everything to ensure victory in media interviews.
Fortune attempted to assess the expert s’ thinking on the election, even if a number university staff declined to give any comment at all. Abebe Aynete, a senior researcher at the Ethiopian International Institute for Peace & Development (EIIPD) was one willing to be identified.
“In the current election, the fact that the people voted peacefully without the need of a peace keeping security force, along with the existence of a multi party system is positive, essential in bringing national consensus among the people and making elections a culture, rather than a life and death battle,” said Abebe.
The existence of the multi-party system is vital in creating awareness among the electorate, giving them a choice and motivating them to elect the country’s leadership. When democracy becomes culture, it will not be a source of chaos and the feeling of enmity between opposing parties as well as their supporters will be avoided, he added.
There are improvements in the current election as compared to the previous ones. In the past four elections, the way the political parties were organised and their campaigns conducted, was based on ethnicity and religion. But in current elections the parties focus more on ideology, on policy platforms, and the increase in the number of voters is another improvement, Abebe noted.
He also pointed out challenges observed in the current election such as the opposing parties’ failure to come up with clear-cutting alternative policies, and duplication of the political parties but with lower quality, recommending that it would have been better if they had come up with three strong parties.
In any case, the creation of the playing field with multiple parties having free air time for the campaign, and the participatory nature of the election are still positive steps in creating democratic culture, he added.
One expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity, however, expressed incredulity at the whole process. According to him, it is even harder to say an election has taken place in Ethiopia.
“Election is between two parties with symmetric power. In the Ethiopian scenario, be it in the fifth round election or the previous four elections, there is an extensive party imbalance,” he noted.
The ruling party is very strong in mobilising membership, in raising funds and in terms of geographical penetration, controlling the media, he added, whereas the opposition parties are weak in organisation, mobilising members, creating regular platforms with their members and raising funds.
“I doubt if they can cover their rental costs at all,” this expert wondered
There is no election in the absence of a multi party system and the registration of the political parties is not enough to call the current system a multi party system as long as the registered parties are unable to effectively operate, he added. For this expert there was no improvement in the recently held fifth round of national elections. He found that last week’s exercise followed in the same footsteps of the four elections that came before it.
That, however, was not an opinion shared by V.K. Padmanabhan (Prof.), a lecturer at the Addis Abeba University’s department of Political Science & International Relations (PSIR).
“The registration of political parties and having candidates in the election is enough to have a multi party system. Why should the ruling party finance and equip them, knowing full well it could encounter them in election?” Padmanabhan asked.
An election is not a one-time process, he said, stressing that in the Ethiopian context, opposition party leaders are not full-time politicians. How much they work with the people in between election times, determines their competence and contribution to democratic culture.
He sees elections as the most necessary pillar in democracy along with all the other pillars such as media independence, which is important in creating interest among the electorate; and the independence of the courts. Despite this the opposing parties cannot blame the ruling party for not cementing all these pillars.
“It is their duty to build all these pillars and the constitutional back up is enough to create the playing field,” Padmanabhan argues.
“For India, it took 65 years for opposition parties to come to power in some regions. There is no reason why the opposition parties in Ethiopia cannot come together and work to win in some regions, which will give them the political experience and ammunition to move forward,” Padmanabhan said, adding that political experience is essential to handling power.
Another expatriate academician, K. Mathews (Prof.), a lecturer at the same department, opined in line with Padmanabhan.
Defining democratic culture as a continuing evolution, Mathews senses its presence when people consider elections as a natural way of life, added to other pillars such as the Electoral Board’s impartiality, freedom of expression, independence of public institutions, rationality, sound judgment, knowledge of the circumstances and the pros and cons weighed by the electorate to bring mature democracy. He feels the fifth round of elections in Ethiopia was a positive step in the development of democratic culture.
He sees the fact that the fifth election took place at all as a constructive sign of a bright future of democracy in the country even though it may take time.
“Ethiopia is in the process of democracy but one party may be dominant for historical reasons or for its contribution at a point in time. But that dominance will still be in the process of evolution,” Mathews asserted.
In the history of global democracy, 24 years is a very infant and early stage, although ensuring mature democratic culture may depend on the historical background of a given country, leadership contributions, economic and social circumstances, which differ from one country’s circumstances to another, he said.
“It took 700 years for England to build a mature democratic culture, which is since the Magna Carta. In France, it took 300 years, which was after the French Revolution. The Untied States had great leaders who contributed to the building of democratic culture. In fact, leadership surrendering power willingly, democratic historical background and economic development are important in developing a democratic culture,” Mathews added.
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