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The role of political parties and civic society in democracy building

The role of political parties and civic society in

democracy building

Bereket Gebru 05-03-17

Social administration remains one of the most contested issues around the world. The various forms of administration proposed by different schools of thought have been tried but the problem of administration still persists. Along with major implementation problems associated with the corruptive ability of power, administrative structures leave the popular masses out of political participation.

By advocating rule of the people, though democracy has grown to become an internationally accepted system of political rule. Bestowing the ultimate power of decision making on the people, democracy works through a system of representation in which the people elect individuals that represent them at local and national councils. Through increased room for the people to participate in their own political, economic and social affairs, democracy gives power to the people. Other systems, on the other hand, accumulate real power on the upper echelons of society who dictate the people on the course of action that would best serve them. Therefore, in such systems, decisions are made on behalf of the people by a small group of powerful people.

With the Ethiopian state adopting a model of developmental democracy, it has set out to address the burning issues of development and democracy at ones. Considering these concepts are complementary and mutually reinforcing, the Ethiopian government has made a sensible decision in making them a target. It has thus set out to realize the creation of a blossoming system of development and democracy.

Despite the daunting task at hand of building democracy, the achievements so far have been encouraging. There is a multiparty system in the country that is accompanied by free elections on a regular basis. People have the right to form parties and the rights of electing and getting elected have been respected. There is also a national system of self rule in which the country’s nations, nationalities and peoples government themselves.

There is, however, a long way to go for democracy to mature in Ethiopia. Therefore, the country is in the process of building democracy. Democracy building is carried out through the establishment of democratic institutions and fostering of a democratic culture among the people. As setting up a system of check and balance is vital in building democracy, the electoral board, the ombudsman and watchdog institutions such as the federal anti-corruption body have been operational. However, political parties, civic society and the public at large need to play considerable roles in this process of building democracy.

In democracy building, political parties help represent a wide range of ideas and ideologies that correspond with different social groups. The stands of political parties on various social, economic and political issues sketch the intricate opinions of various individuals and interest groups within a society. Through this process of presenting different ideas, undecided people are provided with options on which course to take regarding a certain issue up for decision. That means parties shape public opinion of various issues in addition to representing their interests.

With one of the fundamental characteristics of a burgeoning democracy being the presence of regular free and fair election, political parties play a vital role in making that a reality. It is actually pointless for an election to be free and fair unless there are political parties competing for local and national state power. Therefore, by nominating potential representatives of the people, parties play a key role in democracy building.

Political parties are also influential in policy initiation and formulation. By identifying social, economic and political problems, political parties initiate policy. They come up with ideas that might be turned into policies on a certain topic. They also play significant roles in policy formulation. They weigh in on policy directions proposed by other parties and reshape them before they finally get adopted as policies.

Parties also create a platform for the recruitment of leaders in a society. The debates and interactions with society in a political party allow leaders to exercise their leadership skills. The interactions with other political parties also refine their skills in negotiation and argument presentation. The internal and external power struggles in political parties are also a vital training ground for political assertions by potential leaders.

Another key role played by political parties in democracy building is that they form governments. Instead of standing only for the interests of the groups of people whom they represent, political parties assume the role of governments that serve the interest of the people of the entire country. They are put in charge of the state apparatus and deal with other states and organizations on behalf of the people of the country. Therefore, they need to learn to look beyond the interests of a small group of people and negotiate with nations that have a completely different set of goals.

Civic Society also play key role in democracy building. Civic society refers to a collection of institutions which share similar values, purposes and interests and take action for the good of the society. A Civic society is made of various organizations such as community groups, registered charities, non-governmental organizations, religious associations, women’s organizations, professional groups, self-help groups, trade unions, business associations and advocacy groups among others.

The political culture prevalent in the various organizations of the civic society help in creating awareness among its citizens who as a result are better informed ,participate actively in politics, make appropriate voting choices and ensure that the governmental institutions are more accountable.

The most basic role of civil society in democracy building is to limit and control the power of the state. Of course, any democracy needs a well-functioning and authoritative state. But when a country is emerging from decades of dictatorship, it also needs to find ways to check, monitor, and restrain the power of political leaders and state officials.

Another function of civil society is to expose the corrupt conduct of public officials and lobby for good governance reforms.  Even where anti-corruption laws and bodies exist, they cannot function effectively without the active support and participation of civil society. Civil society actors should watch how state officials use their powers.  They should raise public concern about any abuse of power.  They should lobby for access to information, including freedom of information laws, and rules and institutions to control corruption.

Yet another function of civil society is to promote political participation.  NGOs can do this by educating people about their rights and obligations as democratic citizens, and encouraging them to listen to election campaigns and vote in elections.  NGOs can also help develop citizens’ skills to work with one another to solve common problems, to debate public issues, and express their views.

In building democracy in Ethiopia, therefore, both political parties and the civic society need to play their share. Political parties need to build their negotiating powers to endure the rocky terrain of political engagement with other parties while the civic society needs to re-energize itself to stand up to the scary face of lack of good governance and corruption.





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