By Harego Bensa


I have never seen a person who is sharp to notice the smallest creature like an ant but fails to see the giant animal like an elephant. Even if there are some, that would not be surprising for the cause might be physical complications.


On the other hand, human perceptions might differ for psychological reason, among others. For example, two persons who are exposed to see half-a-glass of water at the same time may give different explanations. One may perceive the water as half-full while the other one as half-empty. Psychologists attach psychological significance to such variations. The one who perceives the water as half-full is optimist and the other who perceives it as half-empty is pessimist, so the psychologists say. Such a variation in perception might not be troublesome as long as each one is confined to the specific individual. But it may have negative consequences if it is allowed to encroach into the threshold of politics disguised as the opinion of a section of the public.


That is what, I think, has been reflecting at present in latest smear campaign unleashed by the opposition political leadership dwelling on Ethiopia ’s current status of political space as an agenda. Despite the massive smear campaigns through the most notorious partisan “private” newspapers, the recently conducted political debate among political parties on the Ethiopian Television has helped the public to clear ambiguities related to the matter and figure out the hidden agenda beneath the campaign.

As has been reflected in that debate, the great majority of political leaders in the oppositions are not able to open their eyes wide to see the great many political achievements this country has made over the last 18 years or so. Or it can safely be said that what these people are able to see are not the great many achievements but the most trivial things. In this regard, one could possibly have observed how they were trying to make mountains out of moles of errors. Or, from the psychological perspective, one can argue that the great majority of the opposition party leaders are pessimists who don’t believe that the better days are yet to come. If these are not the cases, then, one may also judge them as either people who are not happy with what have been achieved by the country so far or who stubbornly kept denying the reality that is too visible for everybody else.


Given the experience we have in the past, the last reason appears to be more convincing and the others may not be as such easy to prove or disprove.


Denial is the most common practice among the great majority of the opposition leadership and some of the “private” newspapers in the country. There is nothing new about this. This was the kind of stance they have persisted for much of the history of the country’s democracy. One can substantiate this with the massive campaigns carried out by them against the spectacular economic achievements this country has made particularly over the last four or five years. The campaign was abated late when sheer denial on the economic progress was no more easy and rewarding and when it rather became a task with high risk that could easily wash away one’s credibility and reputations particularly in the eyes of one’s followers.


But as we see from the current situations, old habits are hard to die. The opposition leadership has made a new shift towards politics and begun propagating that the political space in the country has been narrowing since 2005. Despite the new change in tactics, the opposition party leaders are likely to fail in the same fashion as the achievements made in political front are also glaring more and more and will actually reach the level where they will not be easy to deny.


At this moment, however, the smear campaign may succeed to some extent in confusing a few groups of innocent and ill-informed people particularly living abroad and in tarnishing our image abroad for awhile. Even these people can find the truth themselves if they are willing to. First, they may start by evaluating the timing of the latest complaint by some vociferous political leaders in the opposition camp. Because, their complaints just arrived at a time when the next election is less than a year to take place in the country. One can also infer this from the bizarre situation why some of the opposition parties that have seats in the parliament have joined the latest outcry of the hardliners after they have played a prominent role in introducing several of the new changes deemed to expand the political space after holding unprecedented political engagement with the ruling party.


No matter how such activities appear strange by the standard of civilized politics, there should be no doubt that they were deliberately made with stinky objectives. The latest campaign appears to be a pre-emptive assault to discredit the validity of the up-coming elections in the country and thereby incite unwanted consequences. One cannot also rule out their plan to lock the nation into zero-sum game so that the flourishing democratic process set in since 1991 be back to square one and entangled.

As a matter of fact, it is barely a couple of decades since Ethiopia has established the current democratic system. Prior to that, the system was unknown to the country which had passed through a string of monarchs and military dictators. Ever since the introduction of the system in 1991, the fledgling democracy has been kept growing. There is no question about that. That is the reality, which even the oppositions are not able to deny. That is why they have purposely preferred to limit their latest complaints to the political situations since 2005 onwards.


One has to again scrutinize their point of time reference. The year 2005, was the time when the 3rd National Elections were carried out in Ethiopia . That was an election year when the former Kinijit, a coalition of major opposition parties refused to comply with the outcomes of the ballot box and boycotted the parliament and later incited violence that resulted in human and property lose. The situation led to the trial of the perpetrators who were sentenced up to life imprisonment but later pardoned on conditions that they will never engage in non-peaceful political struggle. So, the time reference tells something hidden which is not good for anybody or the nation.


Even, if we see the reality from 2005 onwards the political space has been expanding and not shrinking as the oppositions claim. It was two years or so later that the new parliamentary procedures have been introduced to the country.


The new procedures have availed a number of rights and opportunities that did not exist before 2005 to the opposition parties in the parliament. The new opportunities have bolstered their rights to be heard loud more than ever before 2005. Through the new changes, the right of the minority to be heard in the parliament has been ensured as much as the right of the majority to rule.

In line with this, the new procedural law has brought forth a number of mechanisms to the benefit of the oppositions in the parliament.  First, they have been entitled to summon any senior government official to the parliament once in a week and express their oppositions or request clarifications on measures taken by any sector office of the government. The second mechanism introduced by the new law has entitled them to summon the prime minister once in a month for the same purpose. As the third mechanism, they have been given a special day known as the Day of the Oppositions – a day entirely dedicated to them so that they can express their political stands to the parliament. Here one can observe how the Day of the Oppositions deliberately excludes the ruling party from taking part in expressing its ideas on that day on the assumption that it controlled the majority rule in the house. This is I think entirely a new change that allowed to some extent the oppositions play a leadership role in the parliament.. I don’t think one would expect the ruling party to abdicate its power to the opposition. That is simply impossible for one thing political power is a hardly fought gain that cannot be easily passed over. But beyond that, such attitude is contrary to the principles of democracy in which power is designated by the peoples or the electorate alone.


And as an important bonus, all of their voices made in such a way reach the wider public as they are let on the air with electronic media transmissions, some of them live. All in all, the new measures introduced by the new parliamentary law since 2005 have provided the oppositions with ample opportunities to express their political views and visions to the wider public. From this one can conclude that more enabling political atmosphere has been created in the country for the flourishing of multi-system and democratic order. Frankly speaking, these are new measures that are testimonials to the ever-widening political space in the country that can provide a good show case for the efforts and commitment of the ruling party and the government to consolidate multi-party system, which is a key component of democratic system. While this is a big step forward that needs to be appreciated and stepped up, I also believe that more may need to be done in the future.


Another important issue that has not to be forgotten is that the new law was actually crafted through an inclusive consultation process where the opposition parties played a major role. This is worth-appreciating. The fact that the new law has made its bench-mark on democratic systems of developed nations with parliamentary system is another point we should value.


The other point being raised by the oppositions to substantiate their claim is related to the new electoral law. But I am afraid that the reality in this regard is also against them. Some of the oppositions had actually been testifying to the positive changes they and the ruling party have made in expanding the political space in this regard until their late hour twist to the opposite idea.

The first major change introduced by the new Electoral Law is related to the nomination of the National Electoral Board members. It is clear that the Constitution of Ethiopia gives the mandate in this regard to the Prime Minister but who has to get the approval of the Parliament. That was how the nomination and appointment of the Board members was carried out in the past. That is also what the Constitution of the land still dictates.


Under such a situation, the neutrality of the National Electoral Board was always in question by the oppositions and many others, particularly during election fevers. In a good-will gesture, the ruling party has made a major compromise and let a new provision in the law so as to allow the oppositions   play a significant role in proposing members of the Board. Actually, the new law has been put into effect when the oppositions have recently nominated 24 candidates, out of whom nine were approved jointly with the ruling as the board members of the National Electoral Board thats will execute the fourth national elections next year.


The other new change introduced by the new electoral law is a provision for the subsidies of political parties. That was made in reaction to the demands of the oppositions who were complaining that they did not have enough financial capacity to compete with the ruling party on equal footage. Thus the new law was decisive to resolve their financial constraints, which the government has considered as sound.


Thus, under the new law, the government is committed to provide financial and material support to all the political parties registered in the country. According to the law, the support refers not only to conduct their electoral campaigns but also to their routine works. In practical terms, this provision has already been implemented as the government has recently announced its allocation of the specific budget as of this fiscal year. So, is this not an indication of the ever-widening democratic political space in the country? To use the new opportunities or not is a matter that concerns individual political parties. So far, almost all of them did not make use of the existing opportunities. But the political parties should not act like the bad carpenter who always blames his tools for his own failure to produce good furniture.


The other sweeping change made in recent times is related to the new press law, which unfortunately some of the oppositions cite as an evidence for the narrowing political space. We all know that the new law was drafted by government-commissioned international media law experts and its provisions do not essentially differ from the laws in mature democracies. Among several positive changes, the press law has embodied a comprehensive provision for freedom of information. It is to be recalled that the government was under constant fire by the oppositions and the media for failing to provide government information particularly to the private media. That is why the new law is set in to  compel the government to provide timely information to the media without any hassle.


In line with this, a relevant government body has been restructured and the government body’s main engagement in the information area has been redirected towards provision of government information from regulatory function, which was the case until very recently. That is why the major activities of the newly established Office for Government Communication Affairs have been information feeding, among others,  to the media as a result of which even the most hostile media have started quoting the office now and then as information source. The new law is also enabling for the mushrooming of a large number of print and electronic media (including radio and TV) which will certainly give more space for the political parties and intensify the democratic process taking place in the country.


In view of all these and several other new positive changes since 2005, who on earth fails to see the light at the end of the tunnel? Certainly are most of the people in the opposition leadership who do not wish to see the good of the nation no matter how they painted their undemocratic nature with democratic colors. These are people who fail to make distinction between their personal view and of the public. These are people who in stead of working day and night for peaceful changes are striving to redirect their supporters towards violence, the same grave errors they had committed in 2005. These are people whose obstinacy is leading them towards sheer oblivion as the nation is striding on democratization process.