Ethiopia: Change is easy, democracy is complicated (By Kebour Ghenna)

Kebour Ghenna Desta _Ethiopia _ Land reforms
Kebour Ghenna Desta. Source: Social Media (file)

By Kebour Ghenna
September 1, 2019

It takes institutions like political parties to advance democracy, as long as no one party has too much power. Under the system we have now in Ethiopia, one party and one individual wield too much power and absolute discretion. And this is no good.

Today I focus only on the reform process undertaken to overhaul Ethiopia’s electoral system, notably on the unanimous decision by parliament to pass the bill.

Not a single abstention, let alone a ‘no’ vote!

When such a contentious bill gets a unanimous vote from the five hundred plus deputies, then there should be no surprise if people lose confidence in the parliament and the Prime Minister.
You may remember that not long ago the ruling and opposition parties had agreed to adopt some kind of proportional electoral system, which unfortunately was left out from the adopted bill. The aim of this ‘radical’ change was to reinforce the functions of the legislature by requiring more negotiation among parties in parliament and bringing more voices into government.

Why is this important?

It’s important because the necessity of cooperation in both the formation of governments and in the execution of policy and legislation would compel the parties to work together.

Parliamentary systems are based on mutual dependence: power is exercised through cooperation of the branches of government. The current electoral system i.e, first past the poll, does not allow representation of minorities; and when one party has an absolute majority, there are few constraints on the executive and creeping ‘emperorship’ can occur, we saw it during the last years of Meles’ administration, and we’re beginning to see it with PM Abye.

One of the remarkable features of today’s ‘democracy’ is that one can end up a ruler with the support of only couple of hundreds adults… and then feel entitled to tell the entire citizenry what to do.

Back in the days of Menelik or Haile Sellasie, a monarch justified his power by claiming a “divine right” – given to him by God. Now, our leaders assert a more mundane source of power, a majority vote! Not of the people as such, but of the elites who never face an election and whose main policy goal – getting more power… and money for itself – never changes.

This state of affairs will not change, politicians tell us: EPRDF will do whatever it takes to win in 2020. You wonder why one conduct elections in such an environment?

It seems that PM Abye is struggling to develop his own model of democracy within EPRDF. He has not done a bad job considering the situation that prevailed when he took the reign of the government. But will he succeed in putting together a fresh air of economic wisdom that will produce a promising society? Or will he end up producing a poorer one. At this point, we can only insist that our PM does his work well… thoroughly and astutely.

My prediction: There won’t be any significant change in the way Ethiopia conducts its business as long as the first past the poll system is retained.

My other zany prediction: the Election Board will consider decoupling the elections of state governments from the election of the federal government. In other words some rescheduling may be considered.

Here is why decoupling is practical: to prevent national issues from dominating local government campaigns; give greater prominence to local issues, to minimize the potential for voter confusion caused by two elections (state and federal) being held at the same time.

Gosh. If nothing else, you have to admit that this will bring some excitement in Ethiopia’s politics!

Editor’s note: This article appeared first on the personal facebook page of Kebour Ghenna
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Another article by the same author: Privatization of Ethio-Telecom not in the interest of Ethiopia, “Why play with fire?” (Kebour Ghenna)



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