OPINION: WHY ETHIOPIA NEEDS A STRONG INCUMBENT POLITICAL PARTY IN THE TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY
Girmachew Alemu, For Addis Standard
Between revolution and continuity
Addis Abeba, December 03/2019 – Ethiopia is going through a political transition to democracy that began under the incumbent Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of four ethnic-based political groups that ruled the country since 1991. Despite its authoritarian past, the EPRDF initially committed itself to transition to democracy that is open to all opposition political parties. After a few months into the transition, the ruling EPRDF fractured following serious political differences between leaders of the party who support democratic reforms and those who want to retain the status quo.
On November 22, 2019, the chairman of the EPRDF, PM Abiy Ahmed, announced the decision to merge three of the four members of the EPRDF coalition to establish a new national incumbent successor political party named Prosperity Party. Other hitherto independent regional parties are also expected to join the Prosperity Party (incumbent successor party). This commentary reflects on why the birth of the new incumbent successor party is a step forward in the transition to democracy and highlights three major issues (ethnicity, dealing with the past, and personal rule) that are crucial for the strength and stability of the new party.
Party and party system institutionalization
Ethiopia’s leaders pledged, among other reforms, free and fair multiparty elections in May 2020. Yet, the country is home to highly fragmented, volatile and weak political parties and party system marked by lack of party cohesion, high regional fragmentation, weak financial resources, and clientelism. Over the years, the ruling EPRDF engendered the weak institutionalization of opposition political parties through direct repression and indirect pressure such as inducing internal rivalry, and monopoly over state institutions including the media.
The weak party institutionalization has in turn resulted in a weak party system institutionalization which negatively affected the ability of opposition political parties to forge strong alliances, connect and establish stable linkage with voters, shape and mediate mass political negotiations, and be strong contenders against the ruling party. Also, the EPRDF’s failure to go through the transition to democracy in one piece and the political wrangling between its leaders has exacerbated the volatility and fragmentation of the party system and weakened the transition to democracy. Read more...