Anatomy of opposition
Just like good governance, quality opposition creates healthy politics. A good polity depends on an “optimal composition” of opposition. Anatomy of opposition is thus essential in maintaining this optimal quality composition of opposition. There are (at least) three kinds of opposition. These are: aggressive, competitive and passive opposition. Accordingly, there are (at least) three different ways in which an incumbent party normally deals with any opposition. There are those with whom it should fight; there are those with whom it strives to outwit; and, there are those it tries to debate/convinces with. In relatively peaceful countries, the competitive and passive opposition dominates whereas in chaotic countries, the aggressive opposition has greater mass. Proper anatomy of opposition in Ethiopia enables effective quality control of their composition.
Ethiopian political parties mushroomed over the last 40 years. Unfortunately, these parties were confronted by absolute dictators. The only option for these parties to secure their interest was by either eliminating or paralyzing the dictator because they faced an “aggressive opponent”. This situation was reversed in 1991. For the first time in history, countless opposition political parties were permitted by the incumbent party to work openly. This was not the case in Eritrea. Unfortunately, most of them refused to abide by the rules of the game. Instead of building a new future, they resorted to living in the past.
The post 1991 aggressive opposition can be classified into two. The first sought to resurrect dead regimes the second tried to retaliate dead grudges. Both lived in dead past. Both inherited violence from their dead enemies. And, both hated each other as the former’s hero was the latter’s villain. The former dream of restoring imperial centralism and the latter fantasized to bring back the disintegration during the era of the princes.
Being from the past, they offered nothing for the present or the future. This “aggressive opposition” dominated the opposition camp for 15 years. It mocked the rules of the game and admires violence. Until 2005, Ethiopia has “mistreated” this group by giving it a carrot instead of a stick. In 2005, however, this group got what it deserves and has maintained a low profile since then. This will, hopefully, pave the way to the much desired type of constructive opponents. There are two kinds of constructive components. These are the active and passive opponents.
The active opponents attempt to secure their interest by following the rules of the game. This may also be called the “competitive opponents”. The passive opponents, on the other hand, aren’t interested in action but still abide by the rules. This passive group constitutes the majority of the opposition. It may further be classified into floating and anchored opposition. The floating opposition vacillates depending on personal interest whereas the anchored opposition rarely (if at all) sways between camps. The incumbent party may seek to convince the floating group via debate. In the mean time, it can also strike a fair deal with the anchored opposition via compromise and negotiation. From the incumbent party’s vantage point, the floating opposition is more preferred; however, to the extent they don’t attempt to purge the rules, both groups are allies.
The “competitive opponent” is also an ally because shares the commitment to the rules with likeminded opponents. It is also rational because it abides by a rule that is most efficient conduit to political power. Its development is based on smart manipulation of the “rules of the game” to serve its interest. Hence, the stronger it gets the better for its likeminded opponents for two reasons. First, its strength would mean greater guarantee for the rules of the game. Second, its strength would inspire its likeminded peers to examine its strategy, craft a better one and outwit it-hence, upgrading the game to maturity and sophistication. Due to this, it is in the interest of the incumbent party in Ethiopia to support opponents willing to play as per the rules of the game.
To conclude, quality opposition amount to a good diet for a healthy bodypolitik. If healthy politics is to flourish in Ethiopia, the aggressive opposition must avoided just like a junk food. Instead, competitive opposition must be supported (ideally outwitted) and the passive opposition must be tolerated (ideally convinced). Anatomy of opposition facilitates swift deliberation of carrot and stick by blocking the option for “competitive” and “passive” opponents from becoming aggressive opponents.