The Right to Political Party Membership in Ethiopia: On the Freedom to Join and Resign

Author:Leake Mekonen Tesfay
Position:Leake Mekonen Tesfay (LL.B, Hawassa University; LL.M, Ethiopian Civil Service University), Judge, Federal First Instance Court; E-mail: happyleake@gmail.com
Pages:373-403
SUMMARY

The FDRE Constitution acknowledges the right to freedom of political party membership. Similarly, the Political Parties Registration Proclamation, which regulates the details of political party membership, allows a political party member to withdraw from his/her membership at any time. The form of withdrawal, however, has become contentious. In Unity for Justice and Democracy Party -versus- Blue... (see full summary)

 
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373
The Right to Political Party Membership
in Ethiopia:
On the Freedom to Join and Resign
Leake Mekonen Tesfay
Abstract
The FDRE Constitution acknowledges the right to freedom of political party
membership. Similarly, the Political Parties Registration Proclamation, which
regulates the details of political party membership, allows a political party
member to withdraw from his/her membership at any time. The form of
withdrawal, however, has become contentious. In Unity for Justice and
Democracy Party -versus- Blue Party (a case finally adjudicated by the
Cassation Bench of the Federal Supreme Court), the petitioner, claimed that a
person cannot be member of another political party without a written
withdrawal notice to his/her former political party. The respondent political
party, on its part, argued that withdrawal from membership and taking
membership in another political party is possible at any time. The points of
controversy and the legal framework thereof are examined in this article. An
attempt is made to assess relevant principles, international human rights
instruments and the experience of other jurisdictions.
Key terms
Freedom of association · Political party · Membership right · Political
pluralism · Freedom of choice · Ethiopia
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.4314/mlr.v11i2.5
Received: 5 April 2017 Accepted: 30 August 2017
This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-
NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND)
_____________
Introduction
Multiparty democratic federation is enshrined in Ethiopia’s 1995 Constitution,1
in contrast to Ethiopia’s former political experience. The reign of Emperor Haile
Leake Mekonen Tesfay (LL.B, Hawassa University; LL.M, Ethiopian Civil Service
University), Judge, Federal First Instance Court; E-mail: happyleake@gmail.com
I thank the anonymous internal and external reviewers for their comments. I also thank
my dear wife Selamawit Mlaw Kidane for her support throughout the research.
374 MIZAN LAW REVIEW, Vol. 11, No.2 December 2017
Selassie was notable for not allowing political parties,2 while the military regime
that followed led to the establishment of a one-party system. The Workers Party
of Ethiopia (WPE) was the only political party that was legally recognized.3 The
Constitution of the Peoples Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (PDRE) of 1987
stated that WPE shall be guided by Marxism-Leninism, and considered it as the
vanguard political party dedicated to serve the interests of the working people.4
Although the right to association was provided for in the PDRE Constitution,5
political associations and political parties other than the WPE were made
impracticable.
After the seizure of state power by the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary
Democratic Front (EPRDF), the idea of multiparty democracy6 was embodied in
the 1991 Charter of the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (the Charter)
which provided for human and democratic rights and freedoms based on the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights.7 Particularly, the right to unrestricted
political participation and the right to organize political parties were provided
for.8 Following the Charter, political parties’ registration proclamation was
proclaimed to provide for the details of multiparty political association.9
After the adoption of the FDRE Constitution, multiparty political democracy
and political pluralism, though with limitations,10 have continued to be among
1 Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Proclamation No. 1/1995,
(hereinafter called FDRE Constitution).
2 Kassahun Berhanu (2003), “Party Politics and Political Culture in Ethiopia” in M.A.
Mohamed Salih (ed.), African Political Parties: Evolution, Institutionalisation and
Governance, (London, Sterling and Virgina: Pluto Press), p. 117, (hereinafter called
Kassahun).
3 Ibid.
4 The Constitution of the Peoples Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Proclamation No. 1 of
1987 (12th September 1987) Vol. 47, No. 1, Negarit Gazeta (Addis Ababa), Article 6(1).
5 Id., Article, 47(1)
6 Kassahun, supra note 2, p. 119.
7 Transitional Period of Ethiopia Charter No.1, generally see Article 1.
8 Id., Article 1 (a)(1).
9 Political Parties Registration Proclamation, Proc. No. 43 of 1993 (April 27, 1993) 52nd
Year, No. 37 Negarit Gazeta (Addis Ababa) (now repealed). This proclamation endorses
the right to unrestricted political participation and the right to organize political parties as
provided for in the Charter (cited supra note 7) and provides for the right to form or join a
political party and the right to withdraw from political party membership at any time. See
the preamble, Article 4(1), 16 and 20.
10 The multiparty system in Ethiopia is said not to have been formally established in
practice, inter alia, because of the hegemonic character of the ruling party, EPRDF,
thereby narrowing down the political landscape for opposition parties. See for example,
Multiparty System - In Ethiopian Case:

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