Challenges of Ethnic Representation in Ethiopia and the Need for Reform

Author:Beza Dessalegn
Position:Beza Dessalegn (LLB, LLM, PhD); Assistant Professor at Hawassa University, College of Law and Governance, School of Law. I am grateful for my colleagues Nigussie Afesha and Gosaye Ayele for their constructive comments on an earlier draft of this paper. I am also indebted to the two anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions, which...
Pages:1-28
SUMMARY

Although the Ethiopian federal dispensation legitimizes political participation based on ethnic identity, the arrangement, both through design and political practice, has led to the skewed representation of ethnic groups. The article examines these challenges and argues that in addition to the existing electoral system, difficulties pertaining to the holding of free and fair elections, ethnic... (see full summary)

 
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1
Challenges of Ethnic Representation in
Ethiopia and the Need for Reform
Beza Dessalegn
Abstract
Although the Ethiopian federal dispensation legitimizes political participation
based on ethnic identity, the arrangement, both through design and political
practice, has led to the skewed representation of ethnic groups. The article
examines these challenges and argues that in addition to the existing electoral
system, difficulties pertaining to the holding of free and fair elections, ethnic
voting, the role of political parties and majoritarian decision-making
procedures have severely undermined the effective political participation of
ethnic communities. Moreover, the manner in which electoral constituencies
are formed largely benefit the politically and numerically dominant ethnic
group thereby undermining the representation of ethnic minorities. Yet, in
some cases, notwithstanding the existence of ethnic groups with numerical
ascendancy within an electoral constituency, the political practice ensures that
a „favored‟ ethnic group, despite being a numerical minority, is made the
political majority. In the veil of these obstacles, it is contended that a mere
change in the electoral system alone, without due consideration to the
aforementioned factors, cannot bring a full-fledged solution to the underlying
problems the political system is facing.
Key terms
Ethnic representation · Ethno-federalism · Electoral constituencies ·
Ethnic minorities · Ethiopia
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.4314/mlr.v12i1.1
Received: 17 March 2018 Accepted: 7 September 2018
This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-
NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND)
Beza Dessalegn (LLB, LLM, PhD); Assistant Professor at Hawassa University, College of
Law a nd Governance, School of Law. I am grateful for my colleagues Nigussie Afesha
and Gosaye Ayele for their constructive comments on an earlier draft of this paper. I am
also indebted to the two anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions, which
has helped improve this article. Email: bezadesy@yahoo.com
Frequently used acronyms:
FPTP First-past-the-post (electoral system)
NEBE National Electoral Board of Ethiopia
PR Proportional Representation (electoral system)
2 MIZAN LAW REVIEW, Vol. 12, No.1 September 2018
Introduction
From the very inception, the architects of Ethiopia‟s ethno-federalism promised
a multiparty democracy1 and, vowed to undertake free and fair elections so that
the hitherto marginalized minorities, not only administer themselves in their
defined territories, but also participate effectively at federal and regional levels. 2
To this end, both the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE)
Constitution and the electoral law legalized a multiparty system. The plurality
system of first-past-the-post (FPTP) was chosen as the best available route for
guaranteeing equitable political participation.3
Based on this assumption, five rounds of general elections have been
undertaken since the transitional period. The incumbent Ethiopian Peoples
Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and its affiliates vehemently argue
that multiparty democracy has been taking root and ethnic groups are being
effectively empowered through these elections. However, its detractors dismiss
these claims by accusing the government of, inter alia, setting up a multiparty
politics, which it never intended to implement and employing exclusionary
politics that stifles the genuine empowerment of ethnic communities.
In the face of these accusations and counter-accusations, EPRDF and its
affiliates have a (near) total control of the available political space at federal and
regional levels. The narrowing down of the political space, among others, has
resulted in an unprecedented level of mass protests immediately after the
conclusion of the 2015 general elections. EPRDF quickly blamed the absence of
opposition voices on the electoral system and announced its commitment to
make adjustments a change from FPTP to a mixed electoral system. Of course,
a number of previous researches have also argued that in an ethnically diverse
polity such as Ethiopia, where there exists a long history of competing ethnic
nationalisms, the winner takes all approach does not seem to be a good choice in
trying to ensure the equitable representation of ethnic communities.4
In view of this, this article investigates the impacts of other important
elements such as the holding of democratic elections, the role of political
parties, the impact of ethnic voting, majoritarian decision making procedures
and the less explored impacts of the manner in which electoral constituencies
1 See The Transitional Period Charter of Ethiopia, Peaceful and De mocratic Transitional
Conference of Ethiopia, Negarit Ga zeta, 50th Year, No 1 22nd July 1991, Article 1(b).
2 Ibid, Article 2; the corresponding article to this charter is Article 39 of the FDRE
Constitution, which also envisages for the self-rule and shared-r ule rights of the country‟s
ethnic groups or to use the constitutional term „nations, nationalities, and peoples‟.
3 Proclamation No 532/2007, The Amended Elector al Law of Ethiopia Proclamation,
Federal Negarit Ga zeta, 13th Year, No. 53, Addis Ababa, 25th June 2007, Article 25.
4 See infra notes 19 and 20.

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