Ethiopian Opposition Parties: Are They There Yet?
By Tesfaye Hailu 02/04/10
(First Published in Sub–Saharan Informer)
“Opposition party” is a misguided yet widely accepted term to refer to what ideally should have been called an “alternative party”. In some parliamentary democracies, the main opposition parties are, in fact, considered as “shadow government” or “government in waiting”.
Such an opposition typically has a “shadow cabinet” led by critics or spokespersons of “departments, portfolios or subject areas”. These opposition leaders keep a watchful eye on the policies and actions of the government, and are “prepared to assume the respective ministries’ responsibility” on the event that the ruling party concedes defeat, and yields power in an election.
This way, not only are the crucial roles filled by knowledgeable and experienced legislators, but internal power struggle is averted. After all, American Political Scientist Harold Lasswell’s definition of politics as “who gets what, when and how” is very likely to come into play in such a scenario.
Hence, it wouldn’t be an overstatement to assert that the tasks of the opposition are as important as that of the ruling party. In fact, as untested groups of politicians, opposition parties face an uphill battle in their endeavour to introduce new ideas and policies; get recognized by the public, and win voters’ trust.
For this very reason, opposition parties spend significant human, material as well as financial resources not with the easy task of scrutinizing and criticizing the ruling party’s policies and actions as the end goal. But rather with the purpose of generating better alternatives that will be accepted by the electorate, and eventually pay off at the ballot box.
Regrettably, this is not how the game of politics is played in the Ethiopian multiparty system arena. By putting all the blame on the defending champion for everything that goes wrong within the country and the political contenders’ own camp, not only do the opposition party leaders come across as way too amateurish and unfit to launch strong political offensive, but they don’t appear to have a good grasp of the heavy responsibility governing entails.
Indeed, they seem to take the term “opposition” way too literally, and are under the illusion that merely opposing the ruling party and exhibiting its shortcomings – real, exaggerated or fabricated – are reason enough for change of guard. But they couldn’t be more wrong. Like it or not, we live in a country with more than its share of political, social, economic as well as environmental problems. Thus, resentment of a political rival and immense political ambition should not be the leadership traits displayed by individuals and groups seeking the toughest job in the country.
Unfortunately, the fact remains that, three months prior to an election, the opposition parties do not have their house in order, and are in fact in total disarray. Not only are they into their old habit of blaming their common enemy, but have not been able to rise above the clan like internal strife. Call themselves anything they want: Andnet (Unity), Kinjit (Coalition) or Medrek (Forum), but it takes more than a marriage of convenience – keeping the old maiden name or adopting a new family name – to lead this great yet complicated country of ours.
Finally, one doesn’t have to be a political pundit or a pollster to give a definite “NO” answer to the “Are they there yet?” question. Certainly, preliminary forecasts indicate that, come May, opposition parties will once again be told loud and clear by voters at the ballot box – to borrow the perhaps overused term from the Ethiopian Idol show – “Lezare altesakalachehum!” (Not today!). But I wish this time around the message sinks in for them to:
- Stop crying wolf and blaming the bogeyman;
- Gracefully accept defeat, and make an effort to learn from their countless mistakes;
- Effectively use the next five years to conduct painful soul searching;
- Get their act together so as to become serious contenders to the throne;
- Finally prove to voters that they have come of age to be considered for the complex job of governing.