Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, May 2021
What do party manifestos tell us?
Ethiopia is scheduled to hold general elections on June 5, 2021. The impending parliamentary and regional council elections come after the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) postponed the former August 2020 date due to COVID-19. On top of electing representatives and building a democratic political system, the general elections will be the first major electoral test for the ruling Prosperity Party (PP) led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD).
Despite concerns that led some politicians and analysts to call for its indefinite postponement until a national consensus through dialogue was successfully reached, the NEBE has continued with its preparations establishing polling stations and registering candidates across the country. Candidate’s registration, which was previously scheduled to end on Friday of last week, has been extended for two to three weeks. Transportation and security problems make up two of the most pressing issues that led to the postponement. Given the extension and the potential rescheduling of the timetable it might necessitate, there is fear that the situation could lead to postponement of the election day.
The process of organizing the election has not been smooth for the Board, as regional governments delayed preparations of important facilities such as offices and transport of logistics. Moreover, complaints still persist about security concerns as well as intimidation, harassment and detention of candidates and members in various parts of the country.
Opposition parties have complained about uneven grounds in the run-up to the election and raised security concerns in the country as an obstacle to freely move to galvanize support and address voters.
Nevertheless, irrespective of such uncertainty within the opposition camp, political parties that are registered and recognized by the Board to take part in the upcoming general elections are circulating their election manifestos.
As far as many of the manifestos are concerned, there is a strong desire and conviction to struggle so that the people, through their own efforts, could prove to themselves that they are the real sources of state power. Even though the country is in ‘transition or a reform,’ this election is regarded by many as another historical opportunity to transform the country into a democratic political system.
Through their manifestos parties presented their legal, organizational and operational alternatives based on which voters would choose them over others. The manifestos that parties have released, as seen by The Reporter, have some similarities but also present peculiar characteristics and alternatives based on the ideology and social base the political parties subscribe to. The visions, objectives, and methods of operation of the parties are mainly similar. The manifestos also include major political, economic, social and foreign policy matters that will be given priority attention by the respective parties.
Regarding the peculiar characteristics of the manifestos, headed by the veteran politician Beyene Petros (Prof.), the Ethiopian Social Democratic Party (ESDP) is among the parties that have provided alternatives to the Ethiopian political landscape. ESDP argues that, above all, the country needs national reconciliation and vows to organize an all-inclusive stage where all political parties participate to deliberate on major issues of national reconciliation and consensus. The party also works to have other languages besides Amharic serve as the working language in the country.
As social democracy is its ideological orientation, the promises and plans by ESDP are more tilted to the political practices of a welfare state and promise to provide basic services free of charge or with a minimal payment for citizens. For instance, if the party wins, it promises to provide primarily social security schemes for the marginalized segments of society such as prostitutes and the destitute. Moreover, the party emphasizes improving the lives of disabled people, elders and pensioners. To this end, it plans to build centers for the elderly and the disabled.
The party believes that the current “Special Forces” established by the regions are a threat to the peace and security of the country and recommends that they be dismantled and re-established as a normal police force. Last but not least, the party also promises to allow dual citizenship and also establish a higher commission that deals with the Diaspora.
A new entrant to Ethiopian politics with a moderate liberal ideology, Freedom and Equality Party (FEP) in its manifesto states its commitment to become one of the major contenders in the upcoming general election.
It outlined numerous plans including what it wants to realize in the coming five years following the election. The vision, mission, purpose and strategies of the party are also outlined in an effort to sell its ideas to the wider public.
To this effect, the party has outlined different strategies such as building a political culture based on cooperation than conspiracy and blame, fairness and inclusivity, avoidance of radical or revolutionary change, winning together, serving the public, truthfulness and loyalty.
In addition, it further highlights that all its plans revolve around education centered development strategies and give due emphasis to advancement of the educational system. The manifesto depicts the party’s belief that education plays a crucial role in alleviating the existing political, social and economic problems of the country.
The party claims to primarily apply the ideology of moderate liberalism in-line with existing realities of the country, but insists that it is not bound to a single ideology. Thus, it may also employ other ideologies, including social democracy, whenever necessary.
Regarding the structure of government, it believes that federalism is suitable to Ethiopia. However, its application should be based on administrative easiness, demands of the public, language, culture, geography and other common values of the society.
Apart from this, if the party wins and is able to form a government, it plans to change the existing parliamentary political system into a presidential one where the president will be elected directly by the public to serve for five years with a limited two terms in Office. Furthermore, if elected, it vows to apply both Amharic and Afan Oromo as the working languages of the federal government.
On the other hand, the Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice a.k.a. EZEMA underscores the need for the adoption of a federal government structure. However, it argues, its application should not be based on ethnic lines; rather it should be based on, but not limited to, administrative easiness, social justice, cultural values and economic viability.
The manifesto also reveals that even though there are so many articles the party aspires to amend, the final decision should be left to the public. If the party wins the upcoming general election, therefore, it promises to organize a referendum regarding the amendment of the constitution.
One of the major contending political agendas in the Ethiopian polity since the 70s is the issue of land ownership. In this regard, if elected, EZEMA promises to create a system that allows mixed ownership of land where individuals, community and the government will be entitled to own land.
Furthermore, EZEMA believes that the government should not be engaged in any economic competition with fellow citizens; rather, the role of the government in this respect should be to promulgate laws and regulations to avoid unlawful practices.
Another issue in the party’s manifesto is the need to start national dialogue and build consensus over some issues that are a result of historical injustices and flawed historical narratives.
Hibir Ethiopia Democratic Party (Hibir Ethiopia) is another one of the parties that emphasize the need for national dialogue and consensus. Thus, if elected, the party promises to organize a stage to rectify political, economic, social and psychological flaws collectively. Towards that end, the party has set short, mid and long-term plans.
Hibir’s manifesto makes national consensus and national reconciliation the primary agenda for the party to pursue if it wins the election, indicating that the rest will come next. Therefore, until democratic transition is achieved via national dialogue, the army, police forces of both the federal and regional administrations and the security apparatus will be under the command of the transitional committees, which would be established by the participants of the national dialogue forum. One of the salient features in Hibir’s manifesto stated that the party would work strongly to ensure the withdrawal of military forces of neighboring countries from Ethiopia. The party also vows to undertake different reforms and states its intent to change the name of the Ethiopian National Defense Force into the “Ethiopian National Army.”
On the other side of the aisle, the manifesto of the incumbent Prosperity Party (PP) focuses more on enhancing the already existing “achievements” of the government through Medemer and vows to scale them up, if elected. It states that in an effort to ensure the changes continue in the country, it will also work with different stakeholders to arrive at national consensus. In this regard, its manifesto indicates that the role of elites in achieving national consensuses is immense; hence pp’s promise to create a conducive environment for political elites to play their role in bringing national consensus.
Furthermore, in an effort to rectify historical injustice, the party also proposes the implementation of five working languages including Amharic and promises that the civil administration, the Defense, the Judiciary and the police will recruit without any political interference.
Regarding PP’s position about government owned enterprises and companies, the manifesto also confirms that in order to avoid lower efficiency and productivity, the government might fully or partially transfer these enterprises to private companies. It also states that by using off-grid and grid alternatives, the party will work to provide 100 percent electricity service across the country in the coming five years.
The vision, mission and methods of operation of the parties are largely the same as they highlight their wishes to take Ethiopia to a better position. Another common factor most parties share is the emphasis on the need for national reconciliation and consensus.
It’s one thing to draw up ideals and another to live up to those ideals in real life. Therefore, all parties need to ensure that they have what it takes to implement these goals and enjoy societal backing in their endeavors.
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