By Seifu Tsegaye Demissie, 17 November 2008 – I think that it is difficult to apply any quantitative measure to provide an adequate description of a political space. However, some parameters can be used to assess its suitability to a pluralistic democratic transition and development. Hence, a more or less qualitative approach based on the useful indicators or variables like political freedom, opportunity, the inclination or tendency of the state to be repressive, access to state institutions, free media and representation in the decision making organ can be considered as the better options in this regard.
It is important to indicate that this approach does not claim a complete description of a political space. However, by assessing the current political space in Ethiopia in terms of the above indicators, one can shed some light on its accessibility and availability to all political forces or stake holders in the country. Without further elaboration, the assessment of the political space in terms of the variables mentioned above confirms the widely held view and reality that the political space in Ethiopia represents the concentration of political power in the hands of the dictator Meles Zenawi. Generally, the space is not conducive or favorable to a peaceful or smooth transition to a competitive and pluralistic democratic system in the country.
The pretense that the political space in Ethiopia is accessible and is competitive is too feeble to stand any such scrutiny. It does not go beyond being mere propaganda. The dictatorship of Meles Zenawi is the major constraint in the space preventing it to from developing and becoming accessible and free to all the stake holders in the country. The regime of Meles Zenawi has devised and put in place all the mechanisms of repression and exclusion in the space. The space is replete with persecution, repression and subjugation with all the instruments of a police state in place and use. The dictator is the sole owner of and actual actor in the space.
The opposition parties in the country are at the mercy of Meles Zenawi. In order to satisfy donors and obtain their all rounded support, Meles Zenawi has allowed the opposition to get restricted access to the space. It is this access that he is using as propaganda stuff for the political consumption of donors and lenders. Meles Zenawi is mocking democracy and good governance and is abusing the money of western tax payers. Besides, the current political space is not accessible to all the opposition forces due to the preconditions the regime of Meles Zenawi has imposed. The regime requires allegiance to its constitution and commitment to a peaceful struggle as the preconditions to operate in the political space it controls and directs. The post 2005 elections years have seen draconian measures aimed at closing or sealing the very restricted space made available and accessible. Meles Zenawi himself had admitted that he had taken a calculated risk in making some openings prior to the ill fated and stolen elections of May 2005. Closing the political space to others means closing the venues for peaceful struggle.
The rights to free association and assembly are inalienable democratic rights all citizens are entitled to enjoy without any fetters or restrictions. The the constitution of Meles Zenawi which is also popularly known as the Dedebit Document recognizes these rights. However, the regime of Meles Zenawi is prohibiting Ethiopians from exercising these rights and thus is in breach of its own constitution. Under normal conditions where the rule of law and civil liberties are enforced and observed, no political party will be obliged to seek and secure the permission of a dictator to operate in the country.
The accessibility and availability of the political space to all the actors and stake holders in the country`s politics play crucial roles in ushering Ethiopia into an era of democracy, freedom, development and stability. One can not deny the absence of consensus or the presence of divergent opinions and views among the Ethiopian opposition forces concerning the nature of the political space existing in the country at the moment.
In my opinion, the political space has been the bone of contention but, the prevailing opinions and views regarding this matter can be grossly categorized into three categories which may not be mutually exclusive. Several opposition groups accuse the regime of Meles Zenawi of closing the political space to to them or monopolizing it. They convincingly
argue that he is not willing to allow such a space for a fair and free game. Thus Meles Zenawi`s seizure and closure of the space has forced them to resort to employing all the means possible to coerce him to negotiations or oust him.
There are others who maintain that there is a space however limited and it is possible to bring about change using it through a peaceful struggle. As it stands now, this group is showing the tendency to cooperate or softening stance in its dealings with Meles Zenawi and has attracted the attention of the donors. The apparent risk with this group is that they may lend themselves to the manipulation of Meles Zenawi and become his showcases. The ultimate goal of Meles Zenawi and his donors, is to maintain the status quo in Ethiopia. Past experiences have demonstrated that what they want the opposition to do is to partake in the elections whose outcomes are predetermined and accept the parliamentary seats Meles Zenawi kindly supplies.They want the opposition to escort the regime of Meles Zenawi and provide it with the facade of democracy and legitimacy it needs to qualify for donor money.
There are also political forces who agree that the regime of Meles Zenawi has closed the political space. These forces argue that the peaceful struggle is still relevant with its potential as a weapon to bring about change in the country if pursued with determination resolve and vigour. A peaceful struggle of this nature which excludes compromise with and submission to the will of a dictator has has the appeal and potential of rallying and mobilizing Ethiopians. Pursuing the peaceful struggle with determination and resolve has the most important short coming of the opposition in Ethiopia. Despite the broad and wide popular support for the cause, the opposition groups have failed in the endeavour abolish tyranny in the country. I think that is why Meles Zenawi is slighting the opposition and enjoying the relative comfort this deplorable state of the opposition has afforded him. One remarkable and unique thing about the Ethiopian politics is the negative correlation between repression and political militancy. Normally, escalating repression is expected to lead to heightened militancy or non-restive population. To the surprise of many of us, this is not taking place in most parts of Ethiopia at the moment.
It is far fetched to expect a dictator like Meles Zenawi who has a track record of outright hostility to Ethiopia, no traces of national vision and orientation, to create and offer us a competitive and pluralistic political space accessible to all the stake holders in the country. Meles Zenawi is a secessionist who has deferred his separatist agenda until such a time that he has amassed sufficient resources and fostered the ethnic identity on which he plans to build his would be independent ethnic state. Any mounting threat to his absolute power or unsettling development can lead to a sudden decision on his part to go loose and detach from the rest of Ethiopia.
The TPLF has hinted at this possibility or option during the peak of the post 2005 election crisis. It has sent the signal to the rest of us and we should be mindful of it. I take Meles Zenawi and his front seriously when it comes to the issues of secession and undermining the sovereignty of Ethiopia. As a whole, dictators seize a political space and do not make it accessible to others who would want to pave the way for a competitive and pluralistic political system. In the face of these hindrances and above all, the national security risks the regime of Meles Zenawi poses, Ethiopians and their genuine opposition forces have no option but to consolidate themselves and pursue their struggle with all the determination and resolve they muster.The way forward is the removal of the stumbling block or the regime of Meles Zenawi and pave and smooth the way for an all inclusive political space in which fair competition and pluralism are anchored. Our part in and support for opposition parties should be conditioned on their determination and resolve to achieve the lofty goal of abolishing tyranny and safeguarding the security and well being of our country.