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EPRDF’s quest for unity:

During a conversation he had with Professor Alex de Waal, Ex­ecutive Director at the World Peace Foundation, the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi before his passing professed about having a single and unified political party.

“We are considering making the EPRDF into a single unified national party,” he said. “This would be the logical step, but it needs to be taken at the correct time with all the necessary preparation.”

The bylaw of Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) clearly puts it that since Ethiopia is the nation of nations or consisted of different nation and nationalities the only way to have a strong social and political mobilization that will serve the interest of those culturally, socially as well as ethnically diverse population is by establishing a coalition of parties representing their ethnic group.

The bylaw further argues on the necessity of having such coalition saying that it would guarantee the equality and unity of nations and nationalities in Ethiopia. It also explains having a nationally unified party consisted of individuals would not serve the purpose.

Yet, Meles, the longtime ideological vicar of EPRDF, in many occasions have expressed his intention to create a unified single party yet he stressed on the need to fulfill all the prerequisites before coming into a unified single party.

Among other things, a strong and stable economy which had achieved a middle income level was set as one of the requirement to transform EPRDF from coalition to a unified party. In fact, the assumption was that if the economy advanced to a middle income level, the country would also transit to a liberal economic model.

Ironically, the party, following the death of its long serving Chairman and ideological priest, was seen descending to a multifaceted crisis and the country experiencing a mass public protest and disobedience.

 In addition, the economy was growing at a fastest rate. According to World Bank, “It has been remarkably rapid and stable over the past decade. Real GDP growth averaged 10.9 percent in 2004-2014. By taking into consideration population growth of 2.4 percent per year, real GDP growth per capita averaged 8.0 percent per year. The economic growth was the fastest that the country has ever experienced and it also exceeds what was achieved by low-income and Sub-Saharan African countries in that period.”

Yet, the country was far from reaching middle income and the worst challenge was that since 2014 Ethiopia was rocked by protests which badly affected the country’s economy. In addition, membersof the ruling party, let alone having common unifying interest, theywere seen to be unable to keep it together as relations among them starts to worsen.

The first protest triggered by the contested Addis Ababa-Oromia integrated master plan has expanded to most parts of Oromia. The first protests in primary schools of Ginchi, 80 kilometers south west of Addis Ababa have managed to spark turmoil in most parts of Oromia. In addition, the other part of the country, Amhara region was also entering into its version of public protest which took the ruling party by surprise.

At the 10th convention of EPRDF, held in Mekelle, the departure of the parties from its previous ways were clearly visible. Many were seen expressing their anger over the crisis in the party and internal power struggle among different cliques and networks. Corruption has become rampant and good governance challenges were approaching their peak.

The party, following its convention in Mekelle, commissioned a study on the need to form a single party by 2015, irrespective of the aforementioned precondition to progress to a single party arrangement.

Meanwhile, protest andoverall political and security crisis level in country were seen rising slowly;the turmoil appears to be far from over despite a number of measures taken such as crashing the protests and address problems like good governances via reforms aka TileqTihadeso. However, none of them have worked and things were already escalating which finally led to the resignation of Prime Minister HailemaraimDessalegn and broughtAbiy Ahmed (PhD) to the helm of power.

Regardless, the committee which was organized to study the formation of a single party has been working on its project for the past four years without any tangible outcomes; while the country and specifically the EPRDF was going through a legitimacy crisis and as well as internal struggles.

Over those years, in addition to forming a single party, satellite parties of EPRDF, Ethiopian Somali People Democratic Party (ESPDP), as well as parties representing Afar, Gambella, Beinshangul as well as Harari Regional States were also demanding to be full members of EPRDF.

Established back in 1989, EPRDF has four member parties; the Tigrian People Liberation Front (TPLF), the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM) (now Amhara Democratic Party (ADP)), the Oromo People Democratic Movement (OPDO) (now Oromo Democratic Party (ODP)) and the Southern Ethiopia Peoples’ Democratic Movement (SEPDM).Each of the four parties have equal representations in the executive committee, central committee as well as the council of EPRDF. 

Influenced by the three years crisis since 2015 and more by the power struggle among the four party members in EPRDF, the study regarding forming a single party was far from over.

Yet, at the 11th convention of EPRDF in Hawassa one of the main agenda topics were to bring about peace and calm following the conflicts which erupted after Prime MinisterAbiy Ahmed (PhD) came to power. In addition, during the convention changing the structure of EPRDF was also one of the discussion points.

The study which was going for the past four years was also presented at the convention which among other things showed member parties of EPRDF didn’t fulfill the prerequisites and concluded that it is too early to come to a single and unified party.

By the time, it was greed that, all options in this regard needs to be assessed in order to establish a single party. In addition, it was decided to conclude the study and present it for the next convention. EPRDF usually conducts its convention every two up to three years.

However, in an expected turn of events, EPPRDF’s chairman in his meeting with affiliated parties last week have pledgedto dissolve the Coalitionin few months’ time andcarve out a single unified party that includes all the affiliated parties.

It is not clear why and in what circumstance the Prime Minister Abiy decided to come up with a new plan to form the proposed single party with in short period of time, despite the earlier plans to exhausted all on the study and present after three years.

In fact, the announcement by the PM came at a time when the current member parties of EPRDF are said to be less unified. Unlike, the known culture of EPRDF, member parties are seems going in their own direction.

It is to be recalled that just few month ago, TPLF and ODP have issued a statement showing their commitments in safeguarding the current federal structure. In this regard, TPLF has also invited all federalists’ political groups two work together. TPLF have said it is committed to work closely with those who are up for the federal structure.

The proposed plan to form a single party which has now become a main agenda in the political discourse has been received with a mixed reaction.

Commentators have criticized Abiy’s recent speech and his plan to form a single party as shortsighted which is only intended to calm the current political crisis in the country.

“It would have been better for the party to conduct things gradually instead of dragging into simply forming a single party,” said a political advisor and expert whose name withheld upon request.

In addition, some also have been criticizing the timing of forming a single party which was proposed by the Prime Minister.

This might be one of the worst times in the EPRDF history, where member parties are fundamentally in deviations of their principles when it comes to ideology and political programs, said and expert.

More to it, few also shared their concerns that the proposed plan to form a single party will be a threat to the current federal structure where they argue it will undermine the right to self administration of nations and nationalities of the republic.

However, Sadat Neshe, PR of EPRDF secretariat, said the concerns which were mentioned will not in any way affect the rights of nations and nationalities.

It will not be a threat to the federal structure, he said.

Aside from the current member parties of EPRDF, opposition political parties are also invited to join the future party.

Contributed by Dawit Endashewand Yohannes Anbirbir