TPLF, Elections & Repeated Miscalculations
TPLF would be well-served to transparently expand its confidence-building exercises beyond the recent decision to apportion 15 non-voting parliamentary seats to opposition parties. Such measures will go a long way to accelerating the democratization effort and to building political opposition parties that are loyal to Tigray.
TPLF must not misinterpret its landslide victory as a sign of full voter confidence. Because this is certainly not the case. A significant number of voters cast their ballot for TPLF only due to the dire situation in which they find Tigray and themselves today. Voters understood the four opposition parties were inexperienced and that only TPLF had at present the organizational cohesion, military experience, and history with Prosperity Party (PP) leaders which uniquely qualify it to navigate Tigray out of the current treacherous terrain.
But this by no means indicates voters' satisfaction with TPLF's past management of Tigray (particularly prior to Dr. Debretsion's arrival in Mekele). Given the ongoing widespread complaints about the maladministration, many Tigrians would have preferred to vote for one of the four opposition parties. Considering this, TPLF must allow its future and actions, except those related to national security, to be debated openly in Tigray's parliament as well as publicly.
After all, with respect to the precarious situation Tigrians find themselves, TPLF is one hundred percent to blame. As Ethiopia's ruling party, it refused to heed the advice of many to correct course in Addis Ababa years ago when it had the chance. Simply put, the TPLF leadership at the time had become too arrogant, prideful, and divided within its leadership ranks to recognize the incoming tsunami. Had the TPLF-led EPRDF continue to have the kind of opposition and open debate in subsequent years in the Ethiopian parliament as we had witnessed from 2005 to 2010 with likes of Lidetu Ayalew, Merara Gudina and other opposition leaders in parliament, the ruling coalition could have perhaps avoided the calamity that brought PM Abiy to power.
Currently, TPLF faces yet another fork in the road inside Tigray as it did after the 2015 Ethiopian parliamentary elections when it won a landslide and captured all but one seat. EPRDF got cocky and decided to continue its earlier approach of shutting out the opposition. We all know what happened just months later. Protests rocked the country and EPRDF was brought to its knees and was practically forced to relinquish power eventually.
It would be a dereliction of duty for current TPLF leaders not to learn lessons from their past and decide to shut out Tigray's four opposition parties (the concession on the 15 non-voting seats notwithstanding).
Will TPLF once again choose to be arrogant or will it decide to be inclusive? That is the question. All non-voting parliament members of opposition parties must be given the same rights and privileges, including immunity. Beyond parliament, the Tigray government must consult key opposition leaders regularly with respect to the governance of Tigray.
Furthermore, to put region on a firmer path of development and transformation, President Debretsion and his government must focus on three main areas:
1. Meritocracy: The best minds in Tigray must be appointed to various governmental posts at all levels without delay. Appointments based on friendships and political allegiances will not serve Tigray in the long run.
The economy must be managed by the most brilliant minds TPLF could find (experts who are always open to learning from others and who constantly seek out knowledge in the mold of PM Meles Zenawi who was always a student of economics and history).
2. Pragmatism: TPLF has real expertise on the security front. Still, TPLF's military leaders must not assume what worked yesterday will work today. They must be pragmatic in devising a superior military plan for Tigray. Most importantly, they must intensively study and understand their enemies: Abiy's government, Isiais Afewerki's Shabia clique and their foreign backers and suppliers.
On the economic front, the developmental state model is by far a superior economic model for an underdeveloped nation like Tigray. Tigray's economists must strictly accept this premise. But regional managers must apply pragmatic policies in their efforts to maneuver the economy to new commanding heights. They must freely imagine heretofore unimaginable prosperity for Tigray and aspire to reach it. In a homogeneous and unified region like Tigray, excellence and prosperity is eminently achievable. Let us all act like the descendants of the great Axumite innovators.
3. Integrity: The government in Tigray must rid itself of corruption (and the gang-like cliques) that is strangling the life out of Tigray's future. Fighting corruption must go hand in hand with the fight against incompetence in civil service. Only merit and honesty will guarantee Tigray's future safety and prosperity.
The choice is clear. TPLF leaders must show courage of their convictions and chart a better course for Tigray than what their recent history seems to indicate. They must listen to outside voices. And they must seek to foster participatory, multi-party democracy in Tigray which is the only way forward.
Tigray's citizens have shown their political maturity by how they cleverly interpret and handle the various dissenting political views in Tigray. Similarly, top leaders of the four opposition parties that participated in the election have shown themselves to be largely mature, responsible political operatives (with few exceptions). They have clearly proven they have Tigray's best interest at the center of their political activities. They even appear to be willing to sacrifice politically for the greater good. Therefore, open, and honest debate must be encouraged at all levels.
The truth is many of the views articulated by opposition parties -- particularly regarding self-reliance and independence -- have wide-spread support in Tigray.
As such, TPLF owes it to the people to do much better than its past.
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