The chairman of Blue Party, Mr. Yilkal Getnet, held a meeting with Ethiopians at the East York Civic Center, Toronto this past Saturday, July 9, 2016. The meeting is the second of his briefings since he arrived in Toronto. This particular meeting is considered by many very crucial for it discusses in length current situations and policy issues.
The Chairman has analyzed the nature of the EPRDF regime in order to enable the audience to understand the political environment in which opposition parties are operating. Understanding the legal and political context, he explained, would be essential to choose an appropriate strategy for the political struggle. He further discussed the contradictions that are inherent in the regime which are the major reasons for its undemocratic nature. According to his explanations, the EPRDF has a dual contradictions juxtaposed in its ideology. On the one hand the policy documents clearly state the government has a federal system which decentralized power to lower level of administrative units. On the other hand the regime has a party structure which is based on “democratic Centralism” where decisions are taken by the central Committee of the party and implemented by all government structures. What has been decentralized by the constitution in the state structure to empower the nations, nationalities and peoples is in reality centralized by the party through its various member and allied parties. Therefore, federalism and decentralization are election and propaganda rhetoric than a means of administrative structure.
The other form of excessive centralization is an apparent asymmetry in power sharing among the member parties. All the power of EPRDF has long been concentrated in the single dominant party -TPLF. “Majority rule, minority rights” the maxims of democratic principles is reversed in the case of EPRDF. The minority is ruling the majority. Therefore, a minority rule can’t be democratic. One of the problems in Ethiopian democratic transformation is the existence of minority power elite who would like to continue to rule with undemocratic means.
The other major contradiction rocking the party is political opportunism. Several times party officials have repeatedly said EPRDF is working based on benefit or utility. The constitution has clauses stating any constituent unit which thinks that the federation is not beneficial can leave the federation without any conditions. The concept stated in articles that contains secession is one example. There are no elements like shared culture that would unite the whole country. This opportunism and the fight against corruption are other bedeviling contradictions of the system. EPRDF recruited its members based on opportunistic economic benefits. Both the party and the government are staffed by corrupt officials. As a result the fight against corruption has become very difficult, if not impossible.
The current spate of corruption and its pervading dangers to the survival of the regime has been admitted by the regime. A study conducted by the regime itself showed how the system is plagued by corruption. The paradox is the party perpetuates the problem rather than developing solutions to cure it. The government doesn’t have the political will to fight corruption because it may undo its existence. Therefore, admitting corruption and promising to fight is used as a strategy to extend its hold on power.
On election, the chairman also outlined the challenges of participating in sham elections in Ethiopia. Election, as an instrument of establishing a democratic government, has to be free and fair to represent the will of the people. Blue party believes the election environment has to be free and fair to have a democratic representation. Before holding elections we should reform the electoral system to ensure an independent election board, media, or generally a level playing political field to all parties participating in elections. Bothdomestic and international observers should be easily accredited to monitor elections freely. Without all these prerequisites, holding free and fair election cannot be imagined.
Answering the question from the participants who asked about going to an election whose result is a forgone conclusion and the appropriateness of peaceful struggles, he explains at length the available options that Ethiopians have at hand for regime change. He explained stressing the fact that in the absence of an independent election board, media and other democratic institutions, there would not be change through election. Nonetheless participating in elections would expose the nature of the government and allow raising the consciousness of the people. Therefore, through prolonged popular struggle the government can be changed. Peaceful struggle is the only means that could guarantee effective and less destructive transition from dictatorship to democracy. He once again affirmed his party’s commitment to peaceful struggle.
Mr. Yilkal also answered questions concerning the recent conflict within in the party. The party audit commission has complained about an alleged misuse of money and requested the chairman and other party officials to be audited. Party officials agreed and sat with the audit commissions to discuss the issue. The discipline committee had suspended some of the party officials from the party. The suspension was presented to the Audit commission, which is the higher decision making organ which appoints members of the discipline committee. The Audit commission has reversed the decision of the Commission. Now the situation is resolved and all are working together. He also said although the conflict distracted the party from its struggle for a short time, the lessons taken from the incident are important for the party’s continued existence. The process also showed democratic struggles within the party.
On liberalism and group rights the chairman took time to explain the position of Blue party in these important but often ignored facts. While the party believes in individual rights, given the existence of various groups in Ethiopia, the party also takes group rights seriously. He noted that respect for individual right would ensure group rights. Individual and group rights are not mutually exclusive. Language or cultural rights are also embodiments of individual rights.
The Blue party is the only party in Ethiopia that officially states in its documents that Ethiopia needs at least two official languages, children’s have to learn by their first languages, and individual and group rights have to be respected equally. On economic freedom, the chair os Semayawi said, any Ethiopian has a constitutional right to own and administer his or her land, land must belong to the citizen, not to the State and the role of the government should be reduced to maintaining law and order. He noted that Blue party is a center right party which reconciles individual and group demands amenably.
On the formation of coalition and making an alliance, the chairman mentioned the attempts made to form alliances. He affirmed that the party is willing to make an alliance based on mutual respect and common interest. There were initial attempts to form coalition for elections. Although short-lived, the experience gained was invaluable and the party is still in the process of making such coalitions. On Oromo protests, Yilkal said the party has issued a press statement condemning the killing of Oromos and called upon the government to show restraint.
The organizer of the event, Mr. Essayas Teshome, Head of Unity for Human Rights and Democracy and Activist Tekle Abebe, the moderator of the discussion have called the participants to actively get involved in matters concerning human rights and national issues. They urged the participant to continue to help the families of all political prisoners. The discussion was a successful one in terms of the support it gained in promoting human rights in Ethiopia.
Mr. Yilkal Getnet arrived in Canada for work visit on June 28, 2016. His tour was organized by the Toronto-based Human Rights advocate, Unity for Human Rights and Democracy. Mr. Yilkal will have panel discussions in Ottawa (July 13), Buffalo, New York (July 15) and Vancouver (July 16). He will also meet Members of Parliament and officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Canada. Mr. Yilkal met and have had productive conversations with Ethiopians at the 33rd ESFNA event in Toronto.