Deciphering new ruling party’s identity
One of the major decisions taken by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) after assuming the chairmanship of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), back in February 2018, was to pull the trigger on the transition of the Front to a single unified party which had been under discussion for so many years. In November 2019, the PM went ahead with the proposal to merge the four-parties that makeup EPRDF; this single political act has a huge significance in Ethiopia since it heralded the end of a ruling circle that which remained at the helm of Ethiopia’s political life since the overthrown of the military government, in 1991.
To this effect, three members of EPRDF decided to end their existence and disappear into the belly of the new unified national ruling party. The three were joined by five satellite parties, which were affiliate parties to EPRDF, having less influence on the central and executive branch of the government in Ethiopia. This new breed of political parties is called Prosperity Party (PP). Parties regarded as affiliate to EPRDF were the ruling parties in the Afar, Benishangul-Gumuz, Harari, Somalia and Gambela regions; therefore, these parties have decided to dissolve and merge with the Prosperity Party. The EPRDF leadership previously argued that these largely pastoral regions lacked the agrarian class structure that revolutionary democracy presupposed. For almost three decades, these groups were relegated to the status of partner parties; they were part of the federal government but couldn’t vote in EPRDF committees, where the group reached all of Ethiopia’s major political decisions.
Once these parties, administering their respective regions, have decided to form the newly established PP, commentators were exchanging different views on how to proceed with the existing federal system of government. Apart from this, there were political parties and politicians who severely criticized the move by saying the process is aimed at creating a centralized form of government and undermines group rights.
Among the political groups that oppose the move were the EPRDF founders, the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) together with other ethno-nationalist politicians. The dissenters were open about their preference to keep the old party structure and ideology intact.
On the other hand, many commentators appear to be pleased with the merger, arguing the move is an opportunity to unite the country and resolve many of its deep-rooted problems related with the politics of ethnicity. Indeed, it is difficult to deny the fact that a pan-Ethiopian party, which is led by people having ample experience and significant public support, is well-placed to address the major challenges Ethiopia faces today: mainly growing ethnic polarization and violence.
The dismantling of the EPRDF order and the establishment of a new party had also drawn severe criticism from PM’s close ally, notably, the leader of the political process that brought him to power in 2018, Lemma Megerssa. The former Defense Minister and President of the Oromia Regional State made public his opposition to the establishment of the new PP in the midst of unprecedented political turmoil in the nation.
From the outset, commentators widely speculated on what makes the PP different from the EPRDF that gave birth to it apart from incorporating the five parties that has been labeled as affiliate for three decades. Indeed these questions was not adequately addressed during the formation of the party except that the party is aimed at making Ethiopia prosperous in different sectors such democracy, economy and social advancement.
The quest for understanding the fundamentals of the PP were pronounced more in relation to the recent decision made by the Oromia PP to suspend three central committee members of the party, citing the violation of disciplinary rules of the party.
The decision taken by the Oromia PP brought to question the thematic color of the party altogether, which was said to be a unified national party. Party elites defended this anomaly on the grounds that Oromia PP is nothing more than a regional chapter and that it is completely different from the previous system of regional ruling parties making up the national governing Front. Yet again, this did not settle arguments that invoke the unilateral decision of Oromia PP to suspend its members from the party without the participation of others; and if that is the case what makes it different from the EPRDF era party decision making process where regional parties decided on their own internal affairs before coming to the general assembly or executive committee of the Front.
Supporters of the new ruling party prefer to highlight its qualities and effect in reversing the fragmentation that currently plagues the country; and its role in boosting political inclusivity.
The creation of the pan-Ethiopian PP will reverse fragmentation, boost political inclusivity, and allow vital institutions to flourish, they argue. To substantiate, supporters cite articles from PP’s program, which stated that the party is committed to work on numerous tasks such as to design alternative development model to bring all-rounded prosperity, to have national party that will build peace, democracy, multinational unity, justice, and prosperity, to have a unified multinational party that is based on representation and merit, to unify the actions and objectives of EPRDF’s member organizations and affiliate organizations which have been working together for about three decades and to make them a unified and better political force.
As indicated in its program, the overall objective of PP is to make Ethiopia prosperous country. Its values are the dignity of the people, justice, and multi-national unity; while the main objective is to build a nation state, which is strong, legitimate and based on the premises that the current Ethiopian State is weak, and has a problem of legitimacy.
Therefore, to make the Ethiopian State strong and legitimate, PP will work on national reconciliation, by facilitating the productive interaction of peoples in Ethiopia. PP believes that the political-economic community that will be built will respect the unity of the country and the identity and culture of nations, nationalities, and peoples of Ethiopia. This shows that as an offspring of EPRDF, PP claims that it will continue implementing some of EPRDF’s policies regarding nations, nationalities, and peoples.
It is in line with these programs and aspirations that many inadvertently ask what makes it differ from its defunct parental organization: EPRDF. The program of PP mainly discusses pan-Ethiopian ideals; however, the recent meetings by both Oromia and Amhara PPs have ignited controversy and confusion in some quarters, especially in their bid to get refined answer regarding the organizational structure of PP.
A lecturer at Addis Ababa University, department of political science and international relations, told The Reporter on condition of anonymity that he is not surprised with the confusion, because he believed from the very beginning that leaders of the Party evaded discussing the creation of the new party. “Even though the agenda of creating a unified party was tabled in front of general assembly meetings of the former EPRDF, many times, it was not successful due to different political reasons. He says, what makes it different this time around is that the PM has accelerates it and hence the cadres of the party don’t get enough time to deal with it.”
Apart from that, he continues; “We can’t ignore the fact that the PP has inherited both millions of members and political structure of the old EPRDF, which in itself need to align itself with the ongoing reform. And similarly, we have to take into consideration the current political tension in the country, which doesn’t allow to preach about the ideals of PP to the wider public therefore the best time to understand PP would be after the upcoming general election,” the lecturer further explained.
If the new party wins, it will be in a better place to strengthen the weakened relations between regional states and the federal government. The other change would be better political representation and a federal system that treats every region and group fairly. If the new party delivers on its promises chances are high that it could be a good alternative political force to any potential political opposition.
However, there are different comments that assert there is still a lot to do in an effort to convince those groups and individuals who stand against the PP. Individuals and groups opposed to the PP are concerned that it could threaten the current federal arrangement that was designed to promote group rights over those of the individual.
But, there are counterarguments that such claims might not work; it logic lies in the federal system created 28 years ago and how it was deeply flawed because it cuts so many out of any meaningful decision-making. If the PP wins the upcoming election those on the periphery will be part of the ruling center.
However, like the lecturer at Addis Ababa University, many argued that the real color of PP will be visible and considerable party politics reform would only occur if the PP wins the upcoming election. Till then, it seems that PP is nothing but the reformed EPRDF as many stated, therefore, the upcoming general election will be a landmark event to introduce both democratic party-politics and the genuine uniqueness of PP.