Ethiopian authorities have recently announced that the former Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front, EPRDF, the ruling coalition of four ethnic based parties that have been running business in Ethiopia, undisputed and unopposed, have decided to merge into one single party called Prosperity Party. However, even if not highlighted as important, there is a footnote that the fourth party, the veteran Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) has declined to merge. This would have gone by almost unnoticed if this party did not have its own particular story behind the very foundation of the EPRDF. It was pretty much the one which practically chose every tune that was sung during the past twenty seven years!
Political expediency apart, it is difficult to ignore the elephant in the room! What are the implications of ignoring the TPLF as if it is just one small party which may represent less than a tenth of the entire Ethiopian constituency? We need to know and perhaps consider why this party did not join the merger. The leaders of the party argued that they have ‘no legal basis’ to change the fundamental policies that the government or the EPRDF had been using for the last twenty eight years; and even if there could have been ‘mistakes’ or ‘corrupt practices’ including grave violations of basic human rights perpetrated by the EPRDF, they still believe that they need to ‘take time’ and decide on what move to take regarding the fate of the coalition. They refused to participate in a ‘rushed merger’. They warn of getting engulfed in some form of constitutional crisis.
These TPLF leaders seem completely determined to play out all their cards in a peaceful manner first, and perhaps seek other measures in subsequence, as required. They believe that their party is ‘untouchable’ and it would amount to a betrayal of their core principle for which the party was formed in the first place; and why it struggled for decades to topple the dictatorship with thousands of their comrades in arms and sacrificed in the struggle. So much so that when other parties changed their names, they rejected the idea and remained a ‘liberation front’. They do not refrain from alleging that what Abiy and company are ‘conjuring’ is to establish a state which will be dominated by their large constituency and may end up threatening the autonomous status that a federation involves.
On the other hand, Abiy and company are not ambivalent in explicitly stating that the time for ‘Revolutionary Democracy’ is up and the time for false or pseudo federalism is up. And now with the new party we will have one country, but a real federal system with opposition allowed and arguing on the basis of ideas; both peacefully and openly.
The issues appear even more complicated if we take into account that the country is vying for elections which could amount to something truly historic. The premises seem to be better placed than many other times in the past with the remaking of the National Electoral Board and other institutions such as the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the admission to government circles really reform-minded intellectuals for which the Abiy government has given red carpet treatment.
The fears of TPLF leaders are that they may fall into anonymity even in their regional state. There are several new emerging organisations that seem engaged in practicing politics. These people do not accept that TPLF should be the only legitimate party that represents the people of Tigray. They even believe that the top leaders of TPLF have done more harm than good for the citizens, given the confessions some members have made.
Even if these historical leaders of the TPLF continuously try to delegitimise the newly formed party depriving it their blessing, Abiy and company seem to have thought it seriously in going ahead for the merger. During the past weeks there has been a sustained campaign in promoting the merger and there were references that showed that the historic leaders of TPLF had in their project the merger and embrace the so called ‘partner parties’ such as those containing the Somali, the Afar, the Benishangul, the Gambella and the Harari. These constitute a significant portion of the Ethiopian population and yet they were hardly invited to take part in key decision making moves.
The new philosophy that seems to have taken the upper hand in the country does not have space for Revolutionary Democracy because, they say, it has failed the country’s population by disregarding abuse of power, corruption and grave violations of human rights. That is why ‘medemer’ seems to crop up from the ashes of this ideology. The prime minister’s book states the basic principle of unity under one big party and a robust state, but administered as a true federation.
The implications of the merger with the exclusion of the TPLF may well be more than we are ready to admit because it is entering uncharted territory. People hope that there could be some sort of middle ground to contain any fallout from such discrepancy. The country needs to move in stability and peace; adding this new bone of contention to the already several others on the table could only further complicate matters and may lead the country astray.
The take of the premier on the decline of the TPLF to join the merger may not appear to be a big deal because in a democracy there are manners of respecting the voices of the majority and that of the minority. And that rule can be applied, but the issue is: are there the conditions for the realization of true democratic principles in Ethiopia today? Only time will tell.
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