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Ethiopian Politica Parties

The Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) is a coalition of ethnically based parties. Ethnic politics have come at the expense of meritocracy and economic efficiency. Ethnic politics provide the four EPRDF parties with ethnic constituencies whose support is guaranteed through the perpetuation of a discourse of "ethnic-interests" and fear of other groups. Party officials consistently and systematically frame disputes in nationalistic terms and mobilize their ethnic constituencies. Political elite competition has consequently spilled over into communal conflicts.

The ruling coalition was composed of four political parties delineated along ethnic lines: the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), the Oromo Peoples' Democratic Organisation (OPDO), the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Southern Ethiopian People's Democratic Movement (SEPDM). The TPLF is the dominant group within the ruling coalition, even though Tigrayans make up only six percent of the country's population. Members of the group also hold influential positions in the security forces and other sectors.

The Oromo and the Amhara make up about 60 per cent of the estimated 105m population. By 2018 the Oromo Peoples Democratic Organisation and the Amhara National Democratic Movement, two junior parties in the EPRDF, had begun to push for greater democracy in a system dominated by the Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Front. The Oromo Peoples Democratic Organisation, representing the largest ethnic group in the ruling coalition, was long seen as a puppet of the TPLF. But Lemma Megersa, its charismatic new leader, rebranded the OPDO as something of an opposition party. By 2018 it wanted to take charge, with many Oromos believing that it was their turn to be in charge.

Understanding Ethiopia's domestic political (and economic) actions, and developing a strategy for moving the ruling party forward democratically, requires understanding the ruling Tigrean People's Liberation Front's (TPLF) prevailing political ideology: Revolutionary Democracy. Hard-line TPLF politburo ideologues explain the concept in antiquated Marxist terms reminiscent of the TPLF's precursor Marxist-Leninist League of Tigray. Western leaning TPLF members and more distant central committee members from non-TPLF parties within the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition generally shed the Marxist rhetoric of the hard-liners. Still, these interlocutors unanimously describe Revolutionary Democracy as a top-down obligation of convincing rural Ethiopians of what is in their best developmental and governance interest and providing the structures to implement that until the people can do it for themselves.

The EPRDF was founded by the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) in 1989 to unite insurgent groups fighting against the military government. The TPLF was and remains the dominant member, and since 1991 it has provided most of Ethiopias military and political leadership. The TPLFs most important partners are the Amhara National Democratic Movement and the Oromo Peoples Democratic Organization. A large number of other parties, sponsored by the TPLF and often labeled democratic organizations, are allied with the EPRDF and hold seats in parliament. In the national elections held in 2000, the EPRDF and affiliated parties carried 519 of 548 seats in the lower chamber of parliament. The EPDRF and affiliated parties also control all regional parliamentary assemblies by a large margin.

The meaning of Revolutionary Democracy as embraced among the TPLF hard-liners sees Ethiopia as a "pre-capitalist society" with virtually no middle class and only a minimal working class. It is incumbent on the TPLF to exhibit the leadership required to transform Ethiopia into a capitalist society. The limited middle class fuels competition within the economy which can undermine political stability. Therefore, "the revolutionary nationalist elite intellectuals" in the TPLF have the burden of creating an environment among the peasantry to foster the emergence of a "liberal bourgeoisie" and its affiliated political parties ("after a few elections") which will achieve Ethiopia's development objectives and thereby eliminate the need for the TPLF/EPRDF's role altogether.

In the TPLF's collective mind-set, any alternative to its top-down approach of "democracy" threatens the existence and future of the Ethiopian state. The opposition presents even more of a threat to the state -- in the TPLF/EPRDF's eyes -- in light of their view of the opposition as being infiltrated with Eritrean government hacks, bent on all-or-nothing politics, or (in a most generous interpretation) simply committed to a populous-driven bottom up view of democracy.

Political parties were predominantly ethnically based. Membership in the EPRDF conferred advantages upon its members; the party directly owned many businesses and was broadly perceived to award jobs and business contracts to loyal supporters. The opposition reported that in many instances local authorities told its members to renounce their party membership and join the EPRDF if they wanted access to subsidized seeds and fertilizer; food relief; civil service job assignment, promotion, or retention; student university assignment and postgraduate employment; and other benefits controlled by the government.

As of 2009 there were 79 registered political parties. A number of opposition parties exist and are permitted to contest elections. These included the Joint Action for Democracy in Ethiopia and the Southern Ethiopian Peoples Democratic Coalition, both composed of several member groups united by their opposition to the EPRDF.

While the EPRDF is a coalition of four parties, several other parties affiliated themselves with the EPRDF and vote as a block with the ruling coalition. While the EPRDF had not approved full member status to many of these parties, their loyalty to the ruling coalition earned them a fair degree of autonomy to govern their more distant regions. In the far west, the Benishangul-Gumuz People's Democratic Unity Front (BGPDUF) enjoyed broad discretion in administering its region. The outbreak of brutal ethnic conflict, apparently orchestrated by some Benishangul-Gumuz (B-G) regional officials against the Oromos outside of Nekempt town in May 2008, however, embarrassed the central government. The arrest of the regional vice president in response to the clash presented a tolerable response by federal authorities.

Voter education groups have been severely impacted by the prohibition against foreign funding contained in Ethiopia's 2009 civil society law by. The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) decision to monopolize voter education has the advantage, from the government's perspective, of mooting out applications from some of those groups for waivers from the foreign-funding restriction. In 2009 the NEBE published a voter education manual and had trained 220,000 electoral officers who organized public outreach.

In January 2010 sixty-five Ethiopian political parties reached agreement on how to allocate airtime and print space of state media for electoral campaigning. Two negotiators from each of the four major political parties - Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), All Ethiopian Unity Party (AEUP), Ethiopian Democratic Party (EDP), Coalition for Unity and Democracy Party (CUDP)- and four negotiators selected at large from 61 smaller political parties reached the agreement. The Forum for Justice and Democratic Dialogue (Forum) and 23 smaller political parties did not participate in the negotiations.

The formula proposed by the government-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority and accepted by EPRDF and CUDP (together comprising 401 of the 547 seats in the present parliament) suggested that 60 percent of available media time and space be allocated according to the number of seats a party had in the parliament, 30 percent for the number of candidates a party fielded for the upcoming election, and 10 percent divided equally for all 96 political parties registered to compete in the election.

AEUP did not agree, arguing that EPRDF would have an unfair advantage as it has 367 seats in the present parliament and, as the incumbent ruling party, had the ability to field candidates for each of the 547 available seats. AEUP instead suggested 30 percent for parliamentary seats, 10 percent for the candidates a party fielded and 60 percent for all political parties.

The proposal suggested by Lidetu Ayalew, Chairman of the EDP was accepted by all negotiators. EDP is nominally an opposition party but in reality generally follows the EPRDF lead. The accepted proposal provided 55 percent of airtime based the number of seats a party has in the parliament, 20 percent for the number of candidates a party is able to field and 25 percent for all political parties.

The number of seats each party has in the parliament was a controversial issue because of the split within parties and changing alliances following the 2005 elections. According to the Secretariat of the Parliament, political parties and coalitions had the following seats: EPRDF 367, Forum 60, EDP 43, CUDP 34, EPRDF affiliates 42, and independent 1.

In national parliamentary elections in May 2010, the EPRDF and affiliated parties won 545 of 547 seats to remain in power for a fourth consecutive five-year term. In simultaneous elections for regional parliaments, the EPRDF and its affiliates won 1,903 of 1,904 seats. The EPRDF and its affiliates received approximately 79 percent of total votes cast but won more than 99 percent of all seats at all levels.

Although the relatively few international officials allowed to observe the elections concluded that technical aspects of the vote were handled competently, some also noted that an environment conducive to free and fair elections was not in place prior to election day. Several laws, regulations, and procedures implemented since the 2005 national elections created a clear advantage for the EPRDF throughout the electoral process.

There was ample evidence that unfair government tactics--including intimidation of opposition candidates and supporters--influenced the extent of the EPRDF victory. In addition voter education was limited in scope to information about technical voting procedures and done only by the National Electoral Board, and then only days before voting began. Because, the party's policies are also government policies, the party's positions on various issues are bound to get a lot of coverage in the government media. On the other hand, opposition candidates can only use the allotted time given by the electoral board.

The African Union, whose observers arrived one week before the vote, pronounced the elections as free and fair. The European Union, some of whose observers arrived a few months before the vote, concluded that the elections fell short of international standards for transparency and failed to provide a level playing field for opposition parties. Overall the EU observed a climate of apprehension and insecurity, noting that the volume and consistency of complaints of harassment and intimidation by opposition parties was a matter of concern and had to be taken into consideration in the overall assessment of the electoral process.

The prime minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, said on 22 July 2018 that his country faced "no option" but to pursue multiparty democracy. Abiy's chief of staff tweeted the remarks during a meeting the prime minister held with leaders of more than 50 national, regional and political parties, some from overseas, who were demanding reforms to Ethiopia's election law. "Given our current politics, there is no option except pursuing a multiparty democracy supported by strong institutions that respect human rights and rule of law." Chief of Staff Fitsum Arega wrote. Abiy's favorable comment on multiparty democracy in Ethiopia follows the government's decision to lift a ban on opposition groups that were considered terrorist groups. These efforts to strengthen the country's democracy could make the 2020 elections much more competitive and could mean a profound change in Africa's second most populous nation.

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