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Ethiopia’s Missing Opposition: What Is To Be Done?
By Tesfaye Habisso
“ …. I am afraid the opposition collectively has suffered considerable loss of credibility in the eyes of the people by making a public spectacle of its endless bickering, carping, dithering, internal squabbles, disorganization, inability to unite, pettiness, jockeying for power, and by failing to articulate a coherent set of guiding principles or ideas for the country’s future…” [Al Mariam, June 07, 2010]
Formal political parties originated in their modern form in Europe and the U.S. only in the 19th century. The emergence of political parties and the constitutional recognition of multi-party democracy are of recent origins. In Ethiopia, political parties were banned during the imperial era (1930-1974) as well as in the brutal years of the junta (1974-1991), and were legally allowed to organize and operate only since the past decade or so. Though pro-democracy movements can be traced to the student movements of the 1960s, at best nominally, we have for long not succeeded in implanting the golden values of democracy, human rights, civic culture, rule of law and good governance. We still do not have a critical mass of genuine democrats throughout the country. We have not yet successfully passed through the democratization process began in 1991. Political parties, by and large, are still very young and weak, financially and organizationally. Internal party democracy is still a project for the future. Democratic political culture or what scholars often describe as civic culture is not yet well developed and functioning throughout the society. Generally speaking, we still are dominantly an illiterate and backward agrarian society. Economic development and industrialization are at their infancy stages. We are all learners of democracy; new converts to a strange religion not yet meaningfully embraced and internalized by the majority of the people. Under these circumstances, I think, it is not fair and reasonable at all to denounce the opposition collectively for their current failures and follies in the 2010 national elections, as furiously asserted here above by a professor of law and political science and an Ethiopian by origin presently residing in the USA, Professor Al Mariam. How can one expect Ethiopian political parties, the ruling as well as the opposition, to evolve and function as well established democratic parties of the Western world? This is, for me, nothing less than day-dreaming; it cannot happen so fast and just within a decade. At this stage what political parties in Ethiopia in general need is utmost understanding and support from all corners and all quarters so that they would grow, strengthen and evolve into responsible, viable and fully-fledged democratic parties, and not demonization and denunciation. Yes, the opposition collectively need the helping hand of the incumbent government and their erstwhile supporters; what they need least, of course, is the repressive hand of the state and the disregard of the public as well as the political elites at large.
WHY ARE OPPOSITION PARTIES WEAK IN ETHIOPIA TODAY?
Opposition parties in Ethiopia are weak because of a number of credible reasons. First, they are of recent creations and thus in their infancy stage. Second, they are organizationally and financially undeveloped and struggling to survive thanks to their relatively wealthy sponsors and leaders. Third, they constantly bicker amongst themselves and within themselves due mainly to lack of internal democracy and alternation of leadership. Fourth, and most important, the domination of the political system and public resources by an authoritarian one-party, the EPRDF, cannot allow them or give them free reins to evolve into niche political parties that can challenge the ruling party as a credible opposition bloc. Fifth, the ruling party’s noteworthy success stories and achievements in the areas of infrastructure development, healthcare, universal education, power generation, housing for the poor, the expansion of a large number of universities and colleges throughout the country, including the hitherto marginalized peripheral regions, the double-digit growth of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the national economy for consecutive five or six years, etc. dwarfs the demand for the opposition by the electorate. This article will delve deep in some detail to unpack the political dispensation of one-party dominance and democracy in Ethiopia.
It has always been assumed that the domination of one party in any political system can result in a reduction of political competitiveness, threaten democratic consolidation and affect the overall performance of democracy. A central proposition with one-party dominance is that it does not allow for periodic alternation in political leadership and may undermine the democratic project by being unresponsive to popular demands [Southall 2004]. In general, dominant parties have been held responsible, inter alia, for the following: reducing political competition, excluding specific groups from political power and representation, blurring the lines between party and state, preventing policy innovation, blocking political initiative, promoting system breakdown and encouraging corruption and self-centred/personalized behavior [Golaszinski 2005; Bogaards 2003].
In 1974 Arian and Barnes published the first significant article that explicitly examines the nature of dominant party systems, focusing on Italy and Israel. Arian and Barnes argue that a dominant party system is dependent on the performance of the dominant party: ‘So long as the dominant party performs intelligently, the opposition can do little that is effective. Even bad decisions will not be disastrous unless the opposition is in a position to take advantage of them, and it seldom is’ [Ibid; p. 600]. “Endless bickering, carping, dithering, internal squabbles, disorganization…” and the many qualifying words and phrases heaped upon the opposition by our vocal professor of law and political science in the Diaspora, Professor Al Mariam, vividly show the failure of the opposition bloc to pinpoint the weaknesses of the ruling party and to take advantage of the latter’s weaknesses , on the one hand, and to articulate their ideologies, strategies and plans forcefully and unambiguously and influence the electorate positively and sympathetically towards their policies and plans, on the other.
Be this as it may, dominant parties remain in power for decades or generations. The Social Democrats in Sweden were in power uninterrupted from 1936 to 1976, the Christian Democrats in Italy from 1945 to 1993, the Liberal Democrats in Japan from 1955 to 1993, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) from 1966 until now, Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) from 1929 to 1977, to name a few of the most prominent and illustrative examples.
The most extensive work to date exclusively on dominant party systems in established democracies is UNCOMMON DEMOCRACIES (1990) edited by T.J. Pempel. In the conclusion, Pempel focuses on a ‘cycle of dominance’ which includes a clear beginning, a process of maintenance, and various crises that the party overcomes to remain in power. The beginning, characterized as ‘a mobilization crisis’, and maintenance of dominance by overcoming political crises, are based on a set of historical circumstances which provide the dominant party an advantageous position in regards to the most salient cleavages, and by the strategic actions of the dominant parties. The end of dominance is, it is argued, attributable to the eventual inability of the dominant party to either maintain its base, or to overcome a crisis [Benjamin N., “The Dynamics of Dominance].
There are other scholars who throw different views on one-party dominance. Kenneth Greene, for example, argues that “dominant parties persist or fail based primarily on their ability to politicize public resources. When incumbents can access and use these public resources for partisan purposes, they can outspend competitors at every turn and make otherwise open competition so unfair that they virtually win elections before election-day. Resource advantages mean that authoritarian dominant parties typically do not need to rely on outcome-changing fraud or bone-crushing oppression [or suppression/repression] to maintain their rule and can thus persist as competitive authoritarian regimes that give space to opposition forces rather than fully closed authoritarian regimes that choke-off all dissent. Dominant party rule is threatened when the incumbent’s access to public resources declines and opposition parties have more equal opportunities to compete for votes.” [Kenneth Greene, “The Political Economy of Authoritarian Single-Party Dominance”]. The idea that resource monopolies sustain political monopolies goes back generations [Schumpeter 1947; Lipset 1959; Dahl 1992:82]. Due note also should be made of the naked fact that: ‘The ballot box is tied to the bread box.’
Dominant parties may also diminish the size of opposition parties by increasing the costs of supporting them. These costs may include foregone patronage goods and the threat of losing one’s job, access to public resources, and the protection of the state. Authoritarian incumbents can also deploy the repressive apparatus of the state, even though such repression falls far short of purging dissidents as occurs in fully closed authoritarian regimes.
A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF OPPOSITION POLITICS IN ETHIOPIA
Ethiopia’s modern history has been marked by oppressive regimes which effectively stifled all voices of opposition, and any dissent against their absolutist and tyrannical rule was suicidal. Opposition, by and large, was unthinkable, or when it existed it was frequently equated with an act of treason. Political opponents were presented as anti-people and enemies of the nation, and faced severe punishment that most of the time entailed physical elimination or disappearances for good as in Ethiopia of the 1970s and 1980s. The Neway brothers (General Mengistu Neway and Dej. Girmame Neway) who spearheaded the first time outright opposition against the imperial /feudal order and attempted to oust Emperor Haile Selassie I from the throne by force in 1961 were mercilessly killed and hanged as common criminals at St. George Avenue in Addis Ababa by the security forces of the imperial regime. University and high school students who from time to time rose up against the oppressive policies of the imperial regime and demanded a democratic order through peaceful demonstrations and raised the slogan "land to the tiller" were harshly suppressed by the security forces of the Emperor. Tilahun Gizaw, the then President of the University Students Union of Addis Ababa, was murdered in cold blood in one of the streets of Addis Ababa (Afincho ber) in 1969 for his vocal anti-feudal stance, and subsequently more than one hundred students, amongst those who poured out in large numbers to observe his funeral ceremony on the second day of the latter's murder, were gunned down by a contingent of the imperial guard (actually, a mock funeral procession was planned where students who gathered at the University campus at Sidist Kilo were to carry an empty coffin and march to the streets of Addis Ababa in order to incite the people against the government). Even peasant communities in Tigray, Bale, Gojjam, Ogaden, Sidama, Gedeo, Hadya, Wolayta etc. who rose up against the injustices or excesses of the feudal landlords of the day and also demanded justice, tax waivers due to successive crop failures, self-rule, autonomy and rights over land, etc. were not treated with consideration but harshly suppressed, some as in Tigray and Gojjam were even bombed by the air force. Many others who from time to time dared to challenge the imperial regime perished in like manner, until 1974 when Emperor Haile Selassie I was humiliated and ousted by military force from his throne and mysteriously killed thereafter by the very forces who killed, wounded and maimed many thousands of Ethiopians in the past, zealously protecting his regime from falling into the wrong hands or the commoners. It was the military which in the end removed the Emperor and usurped the people's power by declaring a provisional military government in 1974/5, which in fact lasted longer than a decade and half extending up until 1991 when it was in turn toppled by the EPRDF.
During its seventeen years of tyrannical rule and dictatorship, the military government on its part massacred many hundreds and thousands of Ethiopians, alleged and genuine members of those political parties which vehemently opposed military rule and fought for the latter's demise, such as the EPRP, EPLF, TPLF, EDU, etc. and which operated in a semi-clandestine manner in different regions of the country. Other political groupings such as the All Ethiopia Socialist Movement (AESM), Labour League (WOZ), Marxist-Leninst Revolutionary Organization(MALERID), Ethiopian Oppressed Peoples Revolutionary Struggle (ECHAT/OLF) and ALF (Afar Liberation Front), which flirted with the military government as allies, or "coalition of the willing", so to say, in the struggle to 'realize a socialist Ethiopia' in the Horn of Africa, soon lost favour in the eyes of the ruling Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC) and were eventually treated as strange bedfellows and consumed by the flames of the very revolution that they "critically" supported: Many of their leaders were killed; others were kept behind bars for long years; a few escaped untouched and fled the country landing in Europe or the USA; some of them who prostrated and submitted to the sole leadership of "Comrade" Mengistu Haile Mariam were co-opted by him to join the Workers Party of Ethiopia (WPE). The aforementioned four or five political organizations were also subsequently disbanded and declared illegal through a decree that gave birth to the Workers Party of Ethiopia (WPE) under the chairmanship of "Comrade" Mengistu Haile Mariam, as the sole party to lead or guide the so-called socialist revolution in Ethiopia . The end result of this revolution is, of course, well-known to everyone at home and abroad: utter political, economic and social crisis that witnessed the crumbling of the WPE and the military government as a house of cards in 1991.
All the aforementioned political groups also fought against each other at different times and places and lost many of their militant youth through such skirmishes. Many others were also decimated because of internal party squabbles and mutual distrust amongst themselves. How many perished in such mysterious and despicable ways, no one can tell for sure. Thus, legalized and peaceful opposition politics is a relatively new phenomenon in Ethiopia. For the first time in the long and chequered history of Ethiopia, opposition politics was, willy-nilly, sanctioned and opposition parties were legally allowed to operate in the country in the wake of the demise of the military junta ("Derg") and the subsequent assumption of political power by the victorious militant forces of Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in 1991 (though most of their activities especially outside Addis Ababa or in the rural peasant areas were seriously curtailed). Nevertheless, opposition politics was legalized by the Transitional Period Charter of 1991 and subsequently by the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in 1994/5. Consequently, a legal regime (Political Parties Registration Proclamation No. 46/1993 As Amended by Proclamation. No. 82/1994) was set in place requiring all political parties to get registered by the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEB), which was established as its primary function to conduct periodic and regular elections in the country. Accordingly, numerous political parties mushroomed at the local, regional and national levels in the newly established federal state, even though many of them were very weak parties and existed only in name.
Since the legalization of opposition parties in Ethiopia, four national elections have been held in 1995, 2000, 2005 and 2010. The first national elections were boycotted by the majority of opposition parties alleging numerous impediments in the way of opposition parties, both before and during the election period, created by the ruling party (EPRDF) and its affiliated regional parties. Anyway, at the first national election, the EPRDF won 483 (89.94%) parliamentary seats out of the total number of 537 seats while the other political parties mostly affiliated to the ruling party, secured 46 seats. Independent candidates won the remaining 8 seats. The second national elections were held in the year 2000 under a more stable and relatively peaceful atmosphere than the previous one, and were contested by all opposition parties and in the end "certified" to be free and fair by the local and international observers that observed the 2000 elections, though there were some irregularities in the Southern Region which were subsequently rectified by the NEBE. In this election, the EPRDF won 481 parliamentary seats (87.93%) while the opposition parties, due to lack of funds and often weak organization, contested only 20 percent of the seats to the federal parliament and secured 53 seats, and independent candidates won the remaining 13 seats. The total number of parliamentary seats had increased to 547 by this time to accommodate the representation of some ten or so minority ethnic groups that were not represented during the first national election because each group's population numbered less than 100,000 and was not sufficient enough to constitute even one single constituency for representation as required by the electoral law. Opposition parties also held 10 percent of the seats in the Southern Region's national regional assembly and approximately 25 percent of seats in the Addis Ababa City Council (until the Prime Minister dissolved the entire council in October, with no dates set for new elections). The third general elections took place in May 2005; the opposition won all the seats of the Addis Ababa City Council, leaving only one seat to the ruling party, and secured about 170 parliamentary seats from the rest of the country but, due to its short-sightedness and inexperience in political leadership, declined to join the parliament. The ruling party snatched over 327 parliamentary seats. However, due to the misguided stance of the opposition bloc—the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD)—an election event that was dubbed as the most peaceful, fair, free and credible by all foreign and local observers soon turned ugly, resulting in the death of 7 police officers and 193 civilians, and in the incarceration of over 30,000 opposition supporters as well as the destruction of public and private property worth more than 5 million birr. The story of that election has long been widely disseminated far and wide, and I do not intend to dwell upon it any further. The fourth national elections took place on May 23, 2010 in a very peaceful environment. The result has been a resounding sweep by the ruling party, winning more than 91 per cent of the votes, as opposed to just one seat by the opposition MEDREK and two other seats by the independent candidates. The fourth national elections have been commended to be free, fair and credible by the African Union observers’ team and by the Ethiopian civil societies’ association comprising about 40, 000 election observers. The European Union Observer Mission however fell short of endorsing the elections as free and fair by coming up with the usual phrase that the latter often apply in Third World countries: “the election does not meet international standards…” Whatever the case, the official announcement of the results of the national elections will soon be declared by the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE), perhaps around the last week of the end of June 2010.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE? WHICH WAY FORWARD?
While we reflect on the urgent need for strengthening the practice of democracy and opening up the political space further for opposition parties, I strongly believe that a serious rethinking and reassessment on the responsibility and attitude of the ruling party, and the opposition parties in the Ethiopian political marketplace is timely and necessary. As we all fully well know, one of the most difficult concepts for political parties in Ethiopia, both the incumbent as well as the opposition, to comprehend is that of the "loyal opposition" or legal opposition, as it actually means. The concept of the loyal or legal opposition is central to any functioning democracy. It means that all sides in political debate, however deep their differences, share the fundamental democratic values of freedom of speech and faith, and equal protection under the law. It means, in essence, that all parties in a democracy should be equally committed to the basic values, rules and procedures of democracy. Parties that lose elections step into the role of opposition confident that the political system will continue to protect their right to organize and speak out. In time, their party will have a chance to campaign again for its ideas, and the votes of the people. Political competitors do not necessarily have to like each other, but they must tolerate each other's legitimacy. The right of the minority (opposition) does not depend on the good will of the majority (winning party). The losers in an election must not be, or feel, threatened. On the contrary, they must feel comfortable to continue participating in public life. The role of opposition is essential and equally important in a democratic state. In fact, it is nowadays widely believed that democracy cannot only function properly without opposition parties, but dies without these parties. "In a democracy, the struggle between political parties is not a fight for survival, but a competition to serve the people."
The term "the opposition" is always used as opposed to the incumbent government. In the generic sense, "the opposition" opposes and checkmates government with the objective of extracting good governance. The last decade or so of our experience in Ethiopia has proven that the opposition's Achilles heel lies in its constant rivalries and fragmentation. Thus opposition unity has so far remained a farfetched vocabulary. The fact of the matter is that not one opposition party in the current composition of Ethiopian Parliament can have an impact on decision-making or influence proposed legislation tabled in parliament. The irony is that even when all opposition parties combine their manpower, experience and support it will still be but a mere fraction of the overwhelming and massive support enjoyed by the EPRDF party and their consequential representation in parliament and in government. Sadly and unfortunately, the opposition will have only one lone voice in the coming parliament, and this will result in a parliament devoid of a credible opposition generating strong debates and meaningful deliberations and thus a rubber-stamp legislative body singing and listening to its sole mantra. This may enable the ruling party to push its strategies, policies, programs and projects to implementation very easily and effectively and to insure stability of government but the problematic of corruption, nepotism, patronage and lack of accountability as well as sacrificing rule of law and freedom on the altar of personalized power, etc. is not hard to predict. The ruling party must, I repeat must, put in place all necessary and stringent rules, procedures and mechanisms to fight such social ills or malaise. To ignore and defy this reality by entertaining and pursuing a confrontational style and language as well as approach of opposition, as advocated by a few die-hards in the Diaspora, is to defy and ignore the realities, with dire consequences for the fragile democratization process in the country as a whole and for the opposition in particular. The smooth governance of any country depends on the opposition being responsible, and a responsible opposition does not scream and shout, and use bad language or emotional and unreasonable arguments (demagogy), merely for the sake of opposition and newspaper or television coverage but shows great responsibility and an earnest attempt in trying to influence policy and decision making. It means that private discussions with government Ministers and ruling party leaders can take place, influencing and advising on policy issues where and whenever necessary, cooperating in parliament where it is for the benefit of the country and its people and to make available to parliamentary committees all the necessary experience and knowledge of its members. Whereas open, peaceful clash of ideas, debate, and objective criticism is necessary for building a democratic culture, unprincipled political belligerence and confrontational style of politics has a smack of selfish ambition for nothing but power, not altruism; power as an end and not as a means to serve the Ethiopian people. This must be avoided by all means and by all mature politicians, both in the ruling party and the opposition in general. On the other hand, the ruling party and government should open up the political space further for the opposition parties to operate freely and without any hindrances and impediments to their peaceful activities, such as campaigning, fundraising, holding political rallies and meetings etc; seek the advice and opinion of opposition leaders on major policy issues; show utmost magnanimity towards the opposition in general and reciprocate in sincere and positive gestures towards the latter so that opposition parties would eventually evolve into a constructive and responsible bloc becoming genuine partners in the process of nation building. In a country that currently suffers from severe problems in the areas of food production and food security, economic development, rule of law, political and economic governance, and health, all the political parties being responsible and constructive is indeed crucial. A belligerent, confrontational and uncompromising posture and style of politics by those in the ruling party as well as the opposition would be sufficient not merely to paralyze our country but also to cause panic among our domestic and foreign investors and the development partners. Sadly, political struggles in this country so far are primarily driven by the desire to be in power for power's sake and the ultimate desire to cling to it at any cost or by hook or by crook than any meaningful concern for policy alternatives and the general public good.
As we, in Ethiopia, have embarked upon a process of democratization for the first time and are thus new converts to democracy and its concept, values, rules and procedures, inevitably, not all organizations respect their declared commitments. And not all understand properly the significance and essence of peaceful and democratic operations and bounds. We are all learners in democracy. In this learning process, some learn fast; some take more time to learn; some simply do not want to learn. This naturally affects, to some degree, the smooth transition of our country and our peoples to fuller and functioning, participatory and consensus democracy. In time, however, we are all convinced that all will come to appreciate the fact that democracy is a learned, not inherited system, and it can evolve as an organic outgrowth of development and survive only if the duties of living together in one human society, one economic and political community, are given proper consideration and respect, and on our genuine commitment to regular and respectful dialogue with all parties and interest groups. No democratic right is absolute and one major limitation of such a right is respect for the rights of others. Ignorance or neglect of this interconnection between democratic rights and duties endangers the very basis of democracy.
Although it is extremely gratifying to observe today that the ruling party and some of the major opposition parties have now through dialogue agreed and begun a national debate on numerous policy issues and are able to present their alternative policies or manifestos to the general public, thereby preparing themselves to canvass the necessary votes in the upcoming national elections of the country, the dynamics of the Ethiopian political landscape is such that, it might take many more years for any worthwhile and credible opposition to evolve and become a reality in Ethiopia. It should not be overlooked that " given the existence of a dominant party [EPRDF], which is a coalition of ethnic parties, and the ethno-territorial nature of politics", as well as the kind of electoral system in place (the single-member-constituency or the first-past-the-post electoral system), opposition parties, which are already fragmented and organizationally and financially weak, will surely face tremendous difficulties, in their struggle, even if all limitations on their activities were removed completely by the ruling party, to evolve in a short period of time into a meaningful and strong opposition to the EPRDF, which has enjoyed and still enjoys the full advantages of being an incumbent political party since the last 15 years or so, and be able to checkmate government or influence decisions in parliament. However, those opposition parties which realize this situation and choose to play a constructive role as loyal or legal oppositions will develop into worthwhile opposition parties in the future. This will surely happen if they diligently and patiently work and invest for the long-term realization of their dreams. It will happen eventually and is needed to counter the current domination of the political landscape by the EPRDF ruling party.
Be this as it may, the present trend which clearly attests to the proliferation of too many weak parties across the country's political arena is not also promising for viable opposition parties to evolve in the near future. The recent emergence of the Ethiopians’ Peace and Democracy Party, the Ethiopian Vision Party, the Ethiopians’ National Democratic Movement, and more than 20 or so countrywide parties (26 in total), raises fundamental questions about the future of politics in the country or about the political destiny of Ethiopia and its politicians in general. Ethiopia at present has about 90 registered political parties among which 26 are countrywide parties and the rest regional as well as local ethno-linguistic based political parties, as previously announced by the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia. The truth of the matter is that this proliferation of parties does not augur well for Ethiopia. There is no evidence of parties emerging to address policy issues that have not been taken care of by either the incumbent party and government or the existing opposition. What we see is focus on disagreements; that when people no longer like each other, or seek to emerge as political leaders in their own right, they form their own new parties. Parties that stand the test of time are those based on solid principles and issues. That is in part what attracts large numbers of followers and financial contributions from those who see their aspirations embedded in the manifesto of a particular party. Ultimately, in politics, the bigger the entity the better its chances of success and survival. And the fewer the parties, the more mature the politicians and the more meaningful the political process. People need alternatives, yes; but they also need political direction, and the emergence of more and more parties only serves to confuse the voters more. And, besides, there are hardly any new ideas that these parties are introducing to our political market-place. They are simply short of ideas, content to say nothing at all or to repeat what others have said before and we already know and are long bored and tired of hearing. A close look at the leadership market-place will tell you that there is really no need for new parties. And there is certainly no need for parties to split up. What we need to see now is parties recognizing the obvious; that they are too small and too weak to stand alone and the best way forward for them would be mergers, alliances, cooperation and coalition, as rightly advanced or advocated by the leaders of the Ethiopians’ Democracy Party (EDP). If they want to achieve better and more results and sooner, opposition parties should pursue this path and only this path, and advocate responsible and constructive opposition politics, that is, play the role of the loyal or legal opposition. All other options are destined to fail.
Legal or loyal opposition, however, does not mean that government will not be criticized. It only means that it will be criticized objectively and constructively with the objective of extracting good economic and political governance for the public good. A responsible opposition is not just an opposition party vehemently criticizing the ruling party and government simply for the sake of criticizing. A responsible opposition will support government where their actions contribute towards the benefit of the people of Ethiopia and will give the necessary credit where due, and will assist the incumbent government in tackling major national problems that the country faces from time to time, but it will also not allow government to act when it believes that the government's actions or decisions will be to the detriment of Ethiopia and her people. Thus, I am at no loss to conclude that the country's well-being will be better served when those who claim to have the welfare of Ethiopia and her peoples at heart fully adopt and abide by the fundamental values, principles, rules and procedures of democracy as well as a strong spirit of reconciliation, compromise, tolerance and political magnanimity, if not complete consensus on basic national interests and aspirations. On its part, the ruling party has to show great magnanimity towards opposition parties; remove all limitations on opposition parties that circumscribe their activities especially lack of sufficient freedom to operate at the grassroots level, campaigning, holding political rallies and meetings, etc.; accelerate democratic reforms and strengthen democratic institutions as well as conflict resolution mechanisms and also create a conducive environment that does include and not exclude all opposition parties to participate in the political process; allow them to operate peacefully and smoothly throughout the country and to participate in the upcoming national elections and thereafter with utmost freedom and fairness, as required by any democratic election and political system. Nothing is more encouraging and gratifying in this regard than the recent negotiated agreement between the government and the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) so that this belligerent group would join peaceful politics in their region. It is my hope that someday we may see similar agreements that may bring to the path of peace all other armed and non-armed dissident groups in exile.
Finally, to discuss democracy and democratic elections in Ethiopia today is to talk about the future, about hopes and fears. We are still at the stage of democratization, embarking upon a process which, we hope, will lead us to a more open, participatory, less authoritarian society sooner rather than later. We have not yet reached a stage where we can claim to have realized a stable and sustainable democratic system of government which embodies, in a variety of institutions and mechanisms, the ideal of political power based on the will of the people. Further, little in the present or the past in Ethiopia promises the success of any such thing, yet people want democracy and many believe it is the only possible solution to the twin ills of poverty and misrule. It must also be understood by all that elections alone will not produce democracy and do not necessarily bring about democratic culture. Authoritarian traditions take a long time to wash away. Creating a democracy in poverty -stricken and illiterate societies such as ours itself takes a long time and exacts huge costs, and is often accompanied by violence, disorder, and a period of uncertainty, even chaos. After all, democracies do not at a stroke make societies more civil and stable; they require strong civil institutions and a long period of time. It is only those who are committed to the values of democracy, rule of law, civil liberties and are prepared for the long-haul, and support less than perfect results as long as the efforts are sincere, who will succeed in realizing democracy and development, peace and stability.
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