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The dust seems to finally settle down

The dust seems to finally settle down

Bereket Gebru 08-18-17

It has just been months since opposition political parties and the ruling party started a positive engagement. Although their dialogue and consultation was more of a session for bickering and name calling, things seem to have cooled down a bit as there are some positive steps being taken.

The parties have recently come up with a list of issues to negotiate over. These include: the registration of political parties, the election proclamation, code of conduct proclamation for political parties, anti-terrorism proclamation, mass media proclamation, charities and societies proclamation, organization and function of democratic and human rights institutions, organization and function of justice bodies, freedom of movement, living and rights of proprietorship of citizens, issues of lease proclamation and eviction, tax law, and national consensus.  

Both sides have decided to complete their negotiations in the coming three months. Considering the ever improving engagement of the parties, that goal might be achievable. Although all parties may not have the same level of enthusiasm on the negotiated common ground on issues, the fact that they came up with it together convinces them of the need to abide by the final outcomes. As each party gets its wish on a few points of negotiation while compromising with others on the rest, the experience of working together flourishes. That might just be what Ethiopia needs though, as it could potentially spell the end for incessant bickering among them. 

Before the period of bickering and mistrust took over, Ethiopian opposition parties had a valuable role in designing the constitution. Their participation in politics was active and their contribution was constructive. Their participation in elections has always been there. However, the antagonism between the ruling party and opposition parties became stronger since the 2005 disputed elections that were followed by fatal clashes.

The 2005 elections saw opposition political parties win over a hundred seats in parliament. However, they subsequently boycotted parliament and chose to reject the voices of millions of people who cast their ballots. The situation left their supporters angry with the event triggering an internal strife between party leaders. The result is a weakened opposition camp that enjoys little support from the people.

Despite these tragic developments in most of the opposition parties though, some opposition parties persisted. They acknowledged the need to struggle under the legal setting and continued to participate in national elections although the results did not favor them in any way. Such conditions have fuelled the animosity between opposition parties in general and the ruling party.

There have been deeply engrained mistrust and animosity about one another over the years. Opposition parties generally doubt anything that the ruling party says. They even doubt the very fact that the ruling party is working for the country. The ruling party, on the other hand, suspects that opposition parties might be colluding with foreign forces and extremist Ethiopians living abroad to topple it. The government also suspects that the opposition are trying to restore the conditions under the previous derge regime.

This fundamental mistrust and antagonism has kept the two sides apart with the chances of a good bickering proving non-existent over the past decade or so. Opposition parties chose to distance themselves with the ruling party for fear of being categorized as an opportunist by those operating from abroad. Mere conversations with the ruling party could potentially put the credibility of opposition parties on the line, affecting their funding significantly. The ruling party, for its part, also chose to avoid opposition political parties with no significant initiatives taken to engage with them.

The party’s engagement with various sections of the society in the aftermath of the unrest in parts of Oromia and Amhara seems to have opened the eyes of the ruling party to the change needed in its relations with opposition political parties. Although not clearly stated, the deep renewal process that the ruling party is pushing forth might have something to do with the change of heart.

The fact that the parties did not directly engage in discussions regarding sensitive national issues might just be a good thing as they get to know each other on a more personal note, design procedures for future use and see that they can share their ideas peacefully. The long held assumptions on each side about those in the other camp can be put to question with a little bit of positive engagement with each other. The fact that they got together and designed a potentially working system reflects a lot on what they can achieve if they set their minds together on bigger challenges.

There have been some challenges to this long lost opportunity for engagement. Therefore, both sides need to hold an open mind to walk through any challenges together as it is the interest of the Ethiopian people that is at stake here. Simple gestures that would build trust among each other could be crucial in sustaining this forum for the long haul. Opposition parties also need to assert themselves in their dealings with the ruling party and their supporters abroad. The ruling party, on the other hand, needs to show a genuine interest in what could come out of the engagements.

For some Ethiopians with no affiliation to political parties, the lack of engagement between the ruling party and opposition parties has been a mystery. They both claim to represent and guard the interest of the Ethiopian people after all. The changes we have witnessed recently, however, seem to suggest that the dust might have settled down this time.

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