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What does Dominant Party System has got to do with Dictatorship?

By Bekele Tamitat
Tigrai Onlne - June 15 2014

Recently a columnist in ‘FACT’ magazine by the name of Ato Muluneh Ayalew has put out a feature article on the joint session that was organized by American Embassy and Ethiopian International Institute for Peace and development and held at Sheraton Addis. The program’s main event was focused about dominant party politics; in which Dr. Joseph wing of Toronto University and Dr. Dan Slater from Chicago University presented their research papers.

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EPRDF being the dominant party should not be considered as the only portrayal of the country’, also went to say that the ruling party points to the experience of Japan, Sweden, South Korea, Taiwan for its argument

Ato Muluneh who based on the research papers claimed ‘the party argues that EPRDF being the dominant party should not be considered as the only portrayal of the country’, also went to say that the ruling party points to the experience of Japan, Sweden, South Korea, Taiwan for its argument. He also added that, EPRDF argues for its case by citing the fact that Japan’s “Liberal Democratic party’ has been in power for many years without any opposing political group in sight. He also stated that these arguments are illogical in which it was pointed out by the academics at the gathering, and the main and important things that should be considered are the conditions of democratic institutions of the country. According to this columnist, the judicial courts, private Media and civic organizations are incomparable to Ethiopia realities. And with regards to this rights, the writer not only claims EPRDF is a dictatorial party, as opposed to being a dominant party, he also stated that the academics claimed the democratic improvements on the media and election board would not be possible if these institution are not free.

The aforementioned issues were raised by Ato Mulunch Ayalew on his article that was put out on ‘FACT’ Magazine April 18, 2006 issue. And I have put his article word for word here, because I respect his opinion and also I want him to observe with a clean conscious the wrong assumption and opinion he made. Of course the issue is not what the writer makes it out to be. First of all the fact that the writer presented a self–contradictory opinion riffed with close-minded phrases puts his assessment in to question. He does not clearly know the difference that lie between a dominant party system and flat out dictatorship.

Thus, I would like to ask the writer ‘Does a dominant party system really mean a dictatorship?’ But I don’t him to answer. Instead I will try to explain it to him about the characteristics of the establishment by comparing it to the international situation. Its said that a Dominant party system ensues (reigns) in a certain country, when the ruling party holds the government (power) for a long time either solely or with an alliance (coalition) to other parties that adhere to the same policies. As this political system follow a multi-party system, the opposition parties have the legal right to operate lawfully and compete for power in the election that’s held by the country.

However, if we are to look in to the opposition parties of the country in light with other countries’ experience, we will see that they’re unable to compete with the ruling party due to their own internal problems (issues); their inconsideration to the constitutional order that allowed them to compete for power in the first place, and their effort to instigate riot by mimicking the olden nightmarish days which the country went through. As a result, we can see that they’re chance to seize power is minimal at best.

Thus, we can see that dominant party system has democratic principles and has nothing to with dictatorial tendencies, unlike what Ato Muluneh wrote on ‘FACT’ magazine. By carrying out democratic and fair election they try to gain the most vote of the public by doing good deeds for the public. The mystery behind dominant parties’ success in many parts of the world has to do with their ability to fulfill the publics’ wishes, the fact that they operate in line with the constitutional order that’s built within the society and the good things the did for the people while on power.

Most of the dominant party system proponents are known for their effort to bring democracy (to their respective countries) through neutral organs that don’t have any special interest in the country. The wrong policies the oppositions usually demonstrate are usually attributed for dominant party’s success in a certain country, more than the hard works put in by the ruling parties. According to studies (made on the issue), as the oppositions tend to promise unrealistic pledges instead of sensible agendas that are in demand by the voting public, they become a reason for ruling parties to continue on dominating on proceedings. With regards to this, the ruling party is leading the country as a dominant party after the four general elections held in our country.

It should be understood that this dominant party system is not a phenomenon that’s stricted to only our country. The system, just like every other political system has an international dimension to it. Currently the system is heavily seen in many African, American states, along with many European and Asian countries. Just to name a few African states that adhere to that particular political system, Nigeria, Rwanda, Equatorial Guinea and South African can be mentioned on top of the countries mentioned in Ato Muluneh’s article.

Nigeria’s People's Democratic Party (PDP) is in power by changing its leader for various reasons since 2003, after former President Olesegun Obosanjo came to power. The story of Rwanda’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (FRP) is not different from this. This front (party) which is led by President Paul Kagame is running the country starting from the 1995 election in which the party got 95.1% of the vote. The Equatorial Guinea Democratic Party (PDGE) has been in power for the past 27 years, in which it got 97% of vote in the election that took place in 2002. And South Africa’s African National congress (ANC) has been leading the country since 1994.

These instances are small portion of African countries’ that are ruled by dominant parties. Also according to information American States have a rich history of dominant party administration. For instance, the state of Chicago is administered by Democrats since 1927. This implicates that Democrats have been leading the state as the dominant party for more than a half century. Also in New England, except for the time in which the Republican George W. Bush won in New Hampshire (part of New England region) in the 2000 election, the democrats have been winning as a Democratic Party starting from 1988. The democrats have also been leading the Massachusetts state for over 50 years as a dominant party without letting any other party in. Although at a country level both the Republicans and Democrats have been in power replacing each other, but election at state level have been dominated by dominant parties seizing the mantle of state leadership.

The realities in Asia are no different to this. We can mention the dominant party system that reigned supreme in Japan and Malaysia. The Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (RDP) has led the country for the last 50 years as the dominant party. And a coalition of two parties has leaded the country for more than half of a century as a dominant party. The Malaysia’s United Malays National Organization (UMNO), a coalition of 14 parties, has been leading the country’s parliamentary system as a dominant party since the country’s independence in 1957, and this dominant party has enabled the country to record huge economic development.

I can also mention parties like the German’s “Christian Social Union”, the Italy’s “Democrazia Cristiana” (Christian Democracy Party/DC) and the Irelands “Fianna Fáil”, if we are to look to the European Union versions of dominant parties. The German’s dominant party has been the main focal point of the country’s polities together with parties it’s similar on ideological level, and still has a major share on the country’s government.

And the Italy’s dominant party “Democrazia Cristiana”, except for the time between 1992 to 1994 where it lost the power due o corruption scandal, has been the country’s leading party for the part 50 years by creating coalition with other parties. The Ireland Republic’s “Fianna Fáil”, except for 30 months, has been leading the country for more than 25 years since it came to power in 1987.

The aforementioned dominant parties have their own nature in relation to their countries realities. This shows us that all the dominant parties don’t operate in the same way. They take the leading role in relation to their countries’ realities on the ground. Thus, one should understand the importance of the ideology these parties adhere to. A party that adheres to liberalism ideology operates in line with the ideology’s political thinking. And a dominant party that’s operating under a developmental and democratic political system works to solve the main issues of the country by formulating its own agenda.

For instance the execution of Malaysia’s United Malays National Organization (UNMO) and the South Africa’s dominant party ‘African National congress” (ANC) cannot be the same. The Malaysia’s Dominant party political system has three basic behaviors. The first is the party emphasizes on bringing dignity to various nation and nationalities, while secondly its party of coalition of various nation and nationalities. And the fact that the party was able to build a strong capable executive organ, as the party’s coalition is amassed from various nation and nationalities is the third peculiar characteristics of the party. In contrast, the South Africa’s ANC cannot have Malaysia – like dominant party system which is based on nation and nationalities, without taking the country’s part and current realities on the ground into account.

As its known, the black people of South Africa used to suffer under the Apartheid system for its color of skin. After the demise dominant party of the country followed a two way approach by prioritizing national reconciliation.

In one side, the party has done harmonizing work in which it made the previous unfair (unbalanced) approach in sync to its own policy program. One of those works includes affirmative action. In another side, ANC has flaunted its own agenda which is free from color (race) discrimination. (Here it should be noted that this discrimination free policy of ANC was conceived during the Anti – Apartheid struggle).

The other peculiar thing of ANC is the fact that the party was able to win by forming an alliance with the country’s communist party and with Congress of South African Trade and getting 2/3rd of the vote. The reason why the oppositions in South Africa lost out has to do to the fact that the majority are bent on racism thinking and have a nostalgia and desire for the Apartheid system to make a comeback. And this thinking of theirs has enabled ANC to continue as the dominant party, as the thinking did not find acceptance by ANC and by the black people, the majority people. (Here I want my dear readers to be aware that ANC has yet again won the seat of power in recent election).

Although the aforementioned Malaysia and South Africa parties adhere to dominant party system, as we have seen the way they operate completely differs with respect to the realities of their respective countries. Nevertheless, they can take similar position in that they all work to solve the problems in their countries and initiate basic change by adjusting to their respective countries’ realities.

With regards to this, we can look at our country’s ruling party EPRDF and South Africa’s ANC. Both EPRDF and ANC are developmental dominant parties. However, the reality in both countries varies greatly thus, the policies that will be formulated by the parties will obviously differ. For instance in South Africa, while the white minority rule has put the economy in good conditions, it wasn’t inclusive of the majority of the black population.

Thus, this country which lies in middle income countries list should move itself into a wealthy country by hastening its development. But its main agenda, side by side to its development, is to create an economy that’s inclusive and beneficiary to the majority of the black population. The unbalanced wealth distribution that was created under the Apartheid system should be changed by putting a transformative structure in the process.

EPRDF, the dominant party that’s leading Ethiopia, has worked by flaunting its main agenda which is ‘rapid and sustainable development is a must in order to change the country’s stagnating economic development for the better’. It worked tirelessly to make the developmental path it took to be beneficiary to the public. As a result, the party has enabled the country to register more than 10% economic growth annually in average. EPRDF and ANC have made not only developmentalism, but also democratization part of their body of work. They have chosen the path which theorizes all dominant parties should not be undemocratic; believing development can be gained through democracy and that rooting democracy is possible through rapid developmental process. They have also worked hard to put the democratic order of their respective countries on a firm ground.

With this effort of theirs and the acceptance they garnered from the public, for their commitment to protect (upheld) their constitution, to execute and to put into effect the principles ideals of their respective constitution, they are able to continue to be the dominant parties in their respective countries. And this is what was seen in the 4th general election that was held in our country. And the public has shown, through its vote, the huge support it has for the constitutional system. With this, the ruling party has gained the consent of the public to continue on to be the dominant party until now.

So what exactly is Ato Muluneh saying?... what does he mean when he say EPRDF is not only continuing with being the dominant party but the party is forcing the institutions to operate in a way that it wants? What does the “writer” (more like the ‘the riot proponent’) means when he say the academics on the event had said “if the addition of these realities do not force the ruling party to change, then riot is the only option”, what exactly does he mean? … I don’t think the research presenters would say ‘bring down EPRDF through riot”. However, it’s not surprising for Ato Muluneh to say these kind remarks, considering he’s part of a press syndicate that put sensational titles like. But, I think he should be aware that it’s shameful to twist the words of others to serve his own purpose.

All in all, the ‘writer’ should also know that a dominant party multi party system cannot in any way be a dictatorial regime. The dominant party system that’s founded in this country is democratic and not undemocratic. In a dominant party system, a writer like the lights of Ato Muluneh is reflecting his opinion freely in whatever medium he likes. And he has the constitutional right. There is also the right to operate in line with the legal framework the multiparty system allows and compete in election to seize power this is through the vote (consent) of the public not by riot as what the would – be writer’s deluded mind is saying. The multi-party system that’s being built in our country encourages opposition to have their own role in strengthening the democratic order by operating within the legal framework of the constitution.

In addition to this, it shows the desire to execute the constitutional right bestowed up on the opposition without them being brittle. The fact that the ruling party encourages the oppositions to come to power by gaining acceptance; it’s in no way an implication of dictatorial tendencies. In which kind of dictatorial regime is suitable conditions prepared for the oppositions to replace the ruling party? ... Isn’t it through the multi party system that the oppositions (which most of them used to proponents of Derg/EWP) first heard about power sharing? This is incredible … the reason why dominant party system is created in various countries has to do with having a policy that can mobilize the public, the ability to make the public beneficiaries, the capability to up held the country’s rule of law by adjusting for the realities of the country and the commitment to operate by respecting the constitution. Thus, it doesn’t change the tact that parties that fulfills the aforementioned criteria’s will continue on to be the dominant party. And it can be said that this made our country’s multi party system to turn into a dominant party system.

The “writer” claimed that the academics that were present on the program have sent two “indirect” messages to EPRDF. The first of the “message” says any dominant party system end goal is to establish a multi party system, and this should be not given any more time, while the second “message” has to do with the fact that public riot, instigated by the public’s outcry, would be the undoing of the party. How is it a researcher that presents his/her research directly then choose an indirect way of communicating? ...Why the need to twist their words by saying “they have indirectly said that ….” Nevertheless, Ato Muluneh’s wish is obvious. It’s to seize power through street riot together with his likes. And I think he knows very well that this kind of stunt is not feasible in the democratic order that he’s living.

All in all it should be understood that the current realities in our country is not a source of fear and tension as the election results turned our multi party system in to the current dominant party system. So, one should consider this fact when talking about the democracy – as the consent of the public turn it into a dominant party system and no one can reverse the say f the public.

Generally, it should be known that the ruling party did not simply turn into a dominant party, but by the public vote of the 2002 election. It did not achieve it through coup d’état or other dictatorial means. Our country’s dominant party has enabled the country to record an impressive economic growth. And this has came about not through a dictatorial system which Ato Muluneh is exited about, but by a dominant party that came power through the consent of the nation, nationalities and people of Ethiopia, through its sound policies and strategies and through its ability to mobilize the public. So, I would like to finish by saying the difference that lies between a dominant party system and a dictatorial regime should be known.

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