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Blue’s public gathering: a missed opportunity
Mulatu Gemechu secretary of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) addressing the gathering and attendants of the public gathering (left to right )

Blue’s public gathering: a missed opportunity

Last Sunday, Blue party, one of the major opposition parties in Ethiopia, has organized and conducted a rear town hall meeting with its supporters. Since such gatherings and peaceful demonstrations are rare in the capital, many political commentators expected the gathering to be an opportunity that the resident of the city will use to vent off their problems associated with good governance, high cost of living, shortage of transportation and some basic goods and services. Nevertheless, Blue’s Sunday shindig a little more than cultural event, writes Neamin Ashenafi.

Any meaningful political force in Ethiopia, whether the ruling or the opposition parties, have one thing on their plate these days: the current political unrest that is rocking the nation from end to end. Judging by their recent activities, some in the opposition camp looks to be engaged in different political activities so as to address the current political tension.

In his state of the union address at the joint opening session of the two houses last year, President Mulatu Teshome (PhD) revealed government’s plan to create a wider space for opposition political parties in Ethiopia so that they contribute their fair share to the democratization process of the country. The President’s pledge was seconded by Prime Minster Hailemariam Desalegn unveiling a landmark negotiation platform for all opposition voices in Ethiopia and the ruling party.

In this regard, some 15 opposition parties have been negotiating with the ruling party, Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), over the legal framework governing elections and the overall electoral system of the country. So far, the parties have negotiated and finalized their negotiation on the Revised Political Parties’ Registration Proclamation No. 573/2008.  

Accordingly, the parties have agreed to amend the existing proclamation, especially the part which deals with procedures and requirements that the political parties are expected to fulfill to be registered as a legal political party in the country. Nevertheless, the parties are yet to finish their negotiation over country’s chosen electoral system.

Thus far, the parties have agreed to apply the mixed electoral system in selected constituencies instead of the winner takes all system (first-past-the-post), which Ethiopia  has applied in the past five general elections.

Yet again, they are still negotiating on the model of the mix electoral system and on what the proportion of this mix should be. The opposition and the ruling parties have a huge gap when it comes to the nature of the mixed system.

EPRDF proposed the 80 percent to remain as first-past-the-post and the remaining 20 percent of the constituencies to implement a proportional system. The oppositions itself looks to be divided on the matter. While the 11 parties that have forged unity on this issue came up with a 40 to 60 proportion, others propose a 25 to 75 arrangement.

On the flip side, parties who walked away from the negotiation table such as Blue and Medrek are trying to address the current political tension and unrest in their own way. It is therefore in this regard that Semayawi Party a.k.a Blue conduced a public gathering at Addis Ababa on Sunday, October 29, 2017.

Since such gatherings and peaceful demonstrations are rare in the capital many political commentators expected the gathering to be an opportunity that the resident of the city will use to vent off their problems associated with good governance, high cost of living, shortage of transportation and some basic goods and services.

Abebe Akalu, head of Blue’s public relations, opened the town hall meeting by addressing the recent political unrest and related economic problems. In show of solidarity, the two prominent opposition figures form Medrek, namely Gebru Gebremariam and Mulatu Gemech were also in attendance and delivered a speech about the current political situation and other related matters.

Mulatu emphasized on the importance of the unity of the opposition block. He, however, did not deny that the situation in the country is very worrisome and argued therefore that the opposition party should work together so as to provide a viable political alternative. “It is time to work together, not stand apart and blaming one another,”

He further stated that the opposition parties should support each other regardless of their differences and mistakes. In what appears to be candid assessment of the situation, Mulatu argued that the fragmentation of the opposition block is doing a great service to the ruling party. Therefore, he said; “we have to do our homework in finding a common ground and unifying in the years to come.”

Similarly, Gebru also highlighted the importance of unity of the opposition block in waging a peaceful struggle and bring tangible change to the country. However, Gebru stressed that the unity should be among those he calls ‘genuine opposition political parties’.

One sentiment which was reflected by Blue’s leadership and members was that organizing such an event by itself is a victory for the party.

Though members of the party including the vice chairman were saying that it was a triumph to held town hall meeting, some participants still held reservation claiming that the party has yet failed in providing a viable alternative agenda to the public.

They were just mentioning the political tensions, turmoil and clashes which took place in different parts of the country as it was reported in different media outlets, a participant told The Reporter.

Some of the participants appeared to be a bit disappointed since they were expecting much more heated discussion and a well articulated direction on the current situation.

Some commentators also characterized the meeting as missed opportunity since it was one of the greatest opportunities for Blue to make its perspectives and alternatives on the current situation heard and garner support and membership.

Another participant was also convinced that Blue should have done a better job on the town hall meeting. “We all know how rear such opportunities are and therefore when Blue gets it should use it as a means to indoctrinate its ideology so as to grab many supporters and members as possible,” he said.

Similarly, many participants were baffled by the lack of time allotted to public reflection. “It all seems like a lecture by the members of the party about the current problems in Ethiopia. There was no time for engaging the public with the leaders of the party,” said another participant.

The last participant blames the master of the ceremony; arguing that the master of the ceremony should have been aware of the time allotted to the gathering. “Instead of giving the chance to the members of the party to recite their poems and other art works, he could have used it to hear from the public, this is also another failure of the party,” he said.

According to many political scientists, opposition political parties should strive to indoctrinate their ideologies any chance they get. While presenting their alternatives to political, economic, social and cultural problems that the nation faces.