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Stoking crisis impeding constructive dialogue egregiously irresponsible!

Stoking crisis impeding constructive dialogue egregiously irresponsible!

The past fortnight saw momentous decisions bound to have long-lasting ramifications for Ethiopian politics. In a bid to resolve the constitutional conundrum that arose following the postponement of Ethiopia’s 2020 general elections by the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government tabled four proposals to Parliament on the way forward after it discussed them with different opposition parties. Within days Parliament decided to go for one of them, namely referring the matter to the House of the Federation for a constitutional interpretation. The government’s proposals had elicited diverse reactions from all sides of the political spectrum. While some cautioned that a constitutional crisis would unfold if the government arrived at a hasty decision without a broad-based consultative process, others are peddling intimidating rhetoric with intent to strong-arm the government into accepting their views. The latter argue that after October 10, 2020 Ethiopia would not have a legitimate government because the current government’s term expires. They maintain that according to the constitution it cannot extend its term in office in any manner other than that provided under the constitution itself (namely elections) and that the Prime Minister and those who stand by him will be to blame for the ensuing political crisis. They maintain that after October 10 all political parties, including the ruling party, would be equal and that as such it cannot be at the helm of the government. They further contend that the government cannot command the security forces once it loses its legitimacy. The proponents of this view not only call for the establishment of a transition government, but are also actively stoking conflicts as opposed to fostering a constructive dialogue on elections and other vital national issues. They must not doubt for a single second that their bravado or threat is going to elicit a devastating blowback.

The government should have been receptive to ideas tabled by other stakeholders in addition to the four proposals it floated insofar as they transcended narrow political objectives and put the national interest front and center. Any deliberation on the upcoming elections must be inclusive and take inclusive contemporary local and global realities into consideration if it is to bear fruit. At a time a state of emergency has been declared owing to the coronavirus outbreak, which is posing a grave public health risk, severely restricting the movement of goods and people, battering the national economy and threatening to force millions to go hungry, pressing hot button issues only serves to raise the specter of a catastrophe. If politicians know what is good for them they better do right by the people in the knowledge that they will punish those who, in times of hardship, scheme to foment crisis for political gain rather than protect their wellbeing.

The argument that post October 10, 2020 Ethiopia cannot have a legitimate government without elections does not support the conclusion that political parties which are not represented in the legislature can enter into a power sharing agreement with the ruling party and form a transitional or national unity government. The constitution stipulates that power of Government may be assumed by the political party or a coalition of political parties that constitutes a majority in Parliament. Hence, a party which has no parliamentary seat cannot enter into any kind of power sharing deal and as such must refrain from invoking the constitution to cloak its illegal grab for power whenever an opportune moment arises. It needs to understand that it too can suffer from a legitimacy crisis, not just the ruling party. Any responsible political actor must contribute its share to resolving a crisis instead of stirring it. Negotiating with the government to have a seat at the table and demanding to be part of a transitional government are entirely separate things. If Ethiopia is to successfully navigate these difficult times it’s imperative to put differences aside and show a united front. 

The long overdue change Ethiopia’s vitriolic political culture is in for requires a fundamental attitudinal shift. Though this change cannot be achieved overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic brings with it an opportunity that must not be passed up. One of the upsides of the pandemic has been the demonstration of a rarely seen level of collaboration for a common purpose. Despite a sense of complacency creeping in, most Ethiopians are abiding by the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) and local health authorities in the realization that ignoring them imperils the individual responsible, his family and society at large. If political parties too resolve to abandon their old habits and abide by the rule of law, the same headway can be made in reforming the political landscape as in the fight against the contagion. Accordingly, it’s incumbent on all political parties to consult on adopting a broad framework paving the way for a level playing field and the flourishing of a constitutional democracy. If they insist on practicing politics-as-usual, however, the future will not bode well for them.

With the exception of a few the majority of the over 100 political parties operating in Ethiopia seem to have no inkling that winning elections is their endgame, that they must live and breathe elections. Consequently, they don’t worry much about the implications of what they say or do. Most of their leaders are so obsessed with taking the reins of power that they have no qualms about flouting the very principles they claim to stand for in order to accomplish their goals. That is why in spite of several areas of common interest the rafts of coalitions they have formed have collapsed over trivial issues. And now, individuals and groups that are like oil and water are coalescing around the “constitutional crisis” brewing over the legitimacy of the government after October 10. Akin to its predecessors this coalition is bound to be short-lived given it’s predicated on ephemeral considerations.  Unless these forces come to their senses soon the poisonous political climate will subsist for years to come. No matter what they say, though, after the pandemic is over the state of emergency will be lifted; the delayed elections will be held; and life will return to normalcy. Therefore, any political party which truly has the nation’s interest at heart must do its homework first instead of inflaming tensions and refrain from using the security forces as pawns in the dangerous game the play. History will not be kind to anyone guilty of stoking a crisis impeding constructive dialogue.