The Chair That Became the Test of Integrity

October 11, 2007

On October 9, 2007, the Ethiopian Parliament re-elected Ethiopia’s President Ghirma Wolde-Giorgis for the next six year term. Many have argued that the President’s position is largely ceremonial. The executive power rests mainly in the Prime Minister’s Office.

More than the question of who was elected, the issue of who should have been elected seems to have put some political views to the test of integrity. President Ghirma is a long serving personality in Ethiopia with a remarkable resume, as can be gleaned from Wikipedia. However, many point out his old age, and the question of health that goes with it, as a factor that should have been considered in his re-election. Apparently, President Ghirma does not seem to be concerned about it since he has not declined his re-election nomination. Therefore, only time will tell if this concern will manifest at some point in the future while he is still in office. His pledge to bring the government and the people together as he takes back his seat is a worthy pledge that many Ethiopians would like to see materialized in the aftermath of the estrangement between them.

The alternative political parties grouping in the parliament, the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF), the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), and the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM), nominated Professor Beyene Petros, Chairman of the UEDF, for the nominal presidency position. His nomination could have been in one of two ways. One is if Professor Beyene was personally interested to take up the seat of this nominal presidency position. The other is if the alternative political parties grouping in the parliament requested Professor Beyene to take up the seat despite his inclination to the contrary. From the media reports we have gathered, it appears that Professor Beyene was in fact interested in the position.

Granted that this is the case, the question to Professor Beyene would be why he is interested in such a nominal position when he has the skill, the experience, and the political positioning where he can make a more meaningful contribution to the country’s ongoing democratization process. As the chairperson of the UEDF, one of the alternative political parties with a potent political ideology in view of the country’s ongoing decentralization political trajectory, one can argue that Professor Beyene’s contribution would be far more valuable in his current role than in taking up the seat of the presidency if he were elected.

Obbo Bulcha Demeksa, the Chairman of the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement, has crossed party line as well as sub-national identity line in nominating Professor Beyene. We should not question his overture to nominate Professor Beyene even as Obbo Bulcha leads an Oromo political party. One could ask why he did not opt to nominate an Oromo candidate from his party, or did not support the re-election of President Ghirma, who is also an Oromo, instead of nominating Professor Beyene who comes from a different ethnic group and a different alternative party. This question is not so much about Obbo Bulcha nominating Professor Beyene as much as its implication about the objective and commitment of Obbo Bulcha as a founder and leader of an Oromo party that was created in the run up to the May 2005 legislative elections in Ethiopia. If his commitment was to the Oromo people in forming the OFDM even though there were other much older Oromo parties with similar political ideologies, as well as Professor Beyene’s UEDF party, perhaps the recent event has put original commitment to the test.

Critics from the media as well as the alternative political parties grouping have raised the question of the undemocratic nature of the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Since the EPRDF has the majority seats in the parliament, irrespective of the question of how it acquired them, the expectation of a democratic vote that is against the EPRDF’s agenda is simply unrealistic. Thus, such media critics have also been put to the integrity test.

Perhaps, the question should have been a political one that could have narrowed the gap between the ruling party and the alternative parties political grouping. The EPRDF could have used this opportunity to mend the political gap it has with the people by reaching out to the alternative parties. The gap between the ruling party and the people, and hence the alternative political parties grouping, is clear and loud in the presidents pledge that he wishes to bring the government and the people together. Yet every player in the event was put to the integrity test and we are not sure if any group has passed the test. We can only hope the materialization of the president’s pledge as we enter the era of his second term in office.

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