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Arena Party should quickly get its acts together or another opposition party should emerge and step-in in Tigrai

By Haile Tessema
Tigrai Online, Feb. 4, 2019

In his recent face book post, Arena Party chairperson Abraha Desta claimed that he couldn’t attend a political meeting in Addis Ababa (he had been invited to and was interested in joining) due to lack of money for domestic flight.

And that is not hard to believe as there are noticeable external and internal barriers behind the party’s inability to build the financial capacity it needs to be an active political player in Tigrai.

  1. External (outside the party’s control)

IDEA (Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance) in its “Funding of Political Parties and Election Campaigns, A Handbook on Political Finance has a thorough analytical information on the importance of political parties’ financial ability for democracy and fair electoral representation to flourish (quotes hereunder from the handbook with a link at the bottom).

“There is no doubt that political parties need access to funds in order to play their part in the political process .... reach out to the electorate and explain their goals and policies, and receive input from the people about their views ...”

“... political finance has a positive role to play in democracies: it can help strengthen political parties and candidates, and provide opportunities to compete on more equal terms. Indeed, sufficient access to funding that is provided with no strings attached is crucial to the overall vibrancy of an electoral and democratic system which helps citizens believe in (and trust) politics and politicians.”

“... The purpose of providing public funding is to ensure that all relevant political forces have access to enough resources to reach the electorate, thereby encouraging pluralism and providing the electorate with a wider choice of politicians and policies.”

Unfortunately, these facts have yet to dawn on TPLF, the ruling party, leaders with a sense of entitlement for their 17-year armed struggle against a dictatorship, and ultimate victory, which they think gives them the exclusive right to rule the region uncontested for nearly 30 years and beyond.

As a result, the relationship between government and party is blurred, if not virtually the same:

  1. Public financial, material and human resources are openly and unashamedly used for partisan political purposes.
  2. Public service, which is supposed to be professional and politically neutral, is made to be a partisan source of support for the ruling party.
  • Employees are compelled to be card-carrying, fee-paying members of the party so as to ensure job security; obtain training, education and promotion opportunities.
  • Meetings and other partisan political activities take place during government working hours.

–    Party political brochures, posters and banners are openly placed / displayed in governmental compounds, buildings offices, learning institutions, etc.

  1. Public media is fully utilized to promote the ruling party’s policy and propaganda.
  2. Businesses and citizens are made to feel duty-bound to contribute to the party.

In contrast, never mind to become the recipient of public funding, companies, organizations and individuals wouldn’t dare donate to a political party of their choice other than the ruling party for fear of reprisals including imprisonment with trumped up accusations.

As a result, elections have laughably been won by TPLF 100% in every election conducted thus far, and the regional parliament is absurdly fully controlled by the same ruling party. In all these, TPLF leaders who were freedom fighters and their followers do not see the irony of portraying themselves as agents of democracy.

Indeed, this lack of a level playing field prohibits the equal participation and representation of all citizens in a democratic political process.

2. Internal (Arena Party’s own making)

While TPLF’s undemocratic nature aimed to keep opposition parties at bay is quite evident, Arena Party – particularly under its current leadership – is not helping its own cause either.

Fact is, despite the ruling party’s unfair oppressive practices, Arena has or should have a way to build support, and recruit funds from political supporters and sympathizers (within and outside the country, particularly the latter), especially in the current political environment wherein TPLF’s power and influence has been drastically reduced federally and – to some extent – regionally.

The Arena Party leader, for instance, should be in a position to be invited to Europe and North America by Tegru who wish to see an alternative party in the region. Yet, a party leader is lamenting how he can’t afford even an air ticket to Addis. And some of the main reasons for that are:

  1. Arena hasn’t done a good job in developing a clear political platform; updating it when necessary, and sharing it with the general public and prospective voters. Instead, it’s always preoccupied with attacking government policy and practices hoping to capitalize on TPLF’s weaknesses and failures, rather than relying on its own strength as well.
  2. Party solidarity and discipline is not evident as leaders do not speak in same voice. In fact, they seem to hold opposing views on some issues in particular with regards to current regional–federal relations.
  3. Their political activities are limited to social media, mainly facebook. Yet, do not make maximum effort to meet with members of society face to face. (If the ruling party tries to stop such political activities, Arena has to bring its case to the court of public opinion.)
  4. Abraha Desta hasn’t been demonstrating a strong leadership:
  • Doesn’t carry himself as a mature politician in his public relations endeavors. He at times defends his behavior with the argument that he is not speaking on behalf of the party but rather himself. However, that’s naïve as it’s naturally assumed anyone involved in party leadership – never mind the one at the helm – to be representing the party.
  • Appears to be unaware of or undecided on his constituency / support base – i.e.  whether he wants his party to be regional or federal politics oriented – thus swinging and having opposing positions at a given time.
  • Doesn’t adhere to the know your audience principle when sharing his opinion. Instead, saying and writing whatever comes to his mind hence offending supporters and potential voters.
  • He is busy in the most trivial stuff, and boyishly getting a kick out of the tit-for-tat his silly posts and comments entice, while rarely, if at all, tackling serious political and bread and butter issues.

As a result, faith in Arena as an alternative party in the region is put into question, while a good number of people see Abraha as unfit for the top leadership position he holds.

So, chances are, if things are allowed to go the way they have, TPLF will secure for itself another free ride to unfairly and irrationally fully control a rubber stamping parliament and a government with no checks and balances.

And that will be a travesty of politics and justice in Tigrai when the region is in desperate need of a major contending party that will play a vital role in changing the quasi communist system of government in an era and in the name of parliamentary democracy.

Thus, either Arena has to get its acts together to become a party voters would take seriously or another party has to emerge to quickly make its case for a political funding; garner financial support to carry out its activities; develop a clear political platform; effectively campaign for election, and thereby appeal to voters before election time, which is due in little over a year.https://www.idea.int/sites/default/files/publications/funding-of-political-parties-and-election-campaigns.pdf


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