Why the EPP government is illegal in Oromia right now.
By Tamirat Biri, November 28, 2019
The implementation of the Ethiopian Prosperity Party (EPP) policies before the election amounts to a constitutional overreach for two important reasons: the people who are the main stakeholders of these changes had not been consulted, and the transition process was anything but democratic.
As many people would argue, party mergers and policy changes are prerogatives that those parties may exercise without interference from any external agencies. However, when a party undergoes major transformations as a governing party, there is potential for overreaching its mandate. Before the next election, whether as EPRDF or EPP, the governing party can only implement the policies it had before the last election. But EPP officials are saying that the party and its policies will take effect immediately after ratification by member parties.
At the heart of the new changes are issues like the new working language policy and the merger and centralization of the parties themselves. Both of these changes infringe on core federal self-rule principles and are likely to be very controversial. Therefore, if these policies are to become the working policies of the current government, they must be approved by the voters through a referendum. That means, they need to either freeze the party merger until after the election or step down from government and focus on building their party platform as an opposition party.
In addition, EPP purports to be a “prosperity” party which concerns itself mainly with the development of the country. There is a lot of talk of investment and development without saying by who and for whom. The constitution is clear under article 43 that “the people have the right to be consulted and participate in matters affecting their development”. To date, EPP has never conducted a consultation with the people let alone incorporate the people’s feedback into its development plans. Any implementation of those policies before a countrywide consultation with the people is therefore unconstitutional.
The formation of the EPP has also been shrouded in secrecy, and party leaders employed undemocratic means in order to stifle dissent within the party and facilitate the transition. There are credible reports that some ODP members wanted to remain in their old party but were never given the choice. In an open process, any party member would have been allowed to vote for one of these: join EPP, stay in ODP, join any other opposition party of their choice, or become independent. Those party members should know that they can still make any of these choices.
Only when the party members have made their own free decisions out of a wide variety of choices — rather than from just one — can we say that the transition is democratic. The reason we should care that this process is that it affects who is going to become government in Oromia even before the election. If EPP was to get the most voice, then Abiy Ahmed and his EPP party would remain in power until the election; but if they don’t, then we could have another party come to power now. For example, if more than half of the ODP members were to exit and join, say, the OLF, then that will effectively bring OLF to power before the 2020 election.
Thus, the gross overreach of power along with the dictatorial manner in which it came about, are sufficient grounds for challenging the legitimacy of the new EPP party. Federalist elites and lawyers from all States including Oromia should lead the way and sue the EPP in the courts. This will also create important precedents where citizens can fight the government legally. If, however, it turns out that the courts are beholden to the government and not constitution (I suspect they are beholden to the government), then there is yet another way to undermine the EPP without breaking the law. Previous EPRDF party members in Parliament and State Councils can jump ship and join opposition parties in a coordinated manner so that EPP loses the majority. We should all be lobbying them to join other parties or become independent in order to force a new government to be created. This is particularly important now as the Abiy administration is looking for ways to destabilize the country in order to delay the election and strengthen his grip on power.