By Ashenafi Abedje, VOA 10 September 2009
Ethiopia’s ruling party says it has made its long-anticipated decision. It wants Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to stay on as its leader for another five years. The decision by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) makes it likely the former rebel leader will run the country for years to come.
“The party decision is obviously good for the future of the EPRDF,” says David Shinn, former US Ambassador to Ethiopia. “But I don’t believe it advances the democratic process in Ethiopia.”
Lack of term limit
If he is re-elected next year and goes on to serve another term, Meles Zenawi will have been in power for nearly a quarter of a century. The constitution, written by the EPRDF, imposes no term limit for the office of prime minister.
“From my humble position as an outsider but a friend of Ethiopia,” says Shinn, “this was a mistake.” He says term limits play an essential role in a democracy.
“Term limits, assuming they are adhered to by the incumbent administration, ensure the possibility of policy change and help to institutionalize democratic government.”
In its latest report on Ethiopia, the International Crisis Group says “while the EPRDF promises democracy, it has not accepted that the opposition is qualified to take power via the ballot box.” Shinn says it’s not up to any party to decide which group is qualified to assume leadership.
“It’s up to the people of Ethiopia to decide whether the opposition is qualified to rule the country. In the past, the opposition has been divided. That doesn’t mean that it’s not qualified to run the country, however.”
Shinn says the only way to find out is to give it (the opposition) a chance.
International community silence
The ICG report chides the international community for turning a blind eye to what it calls, “the serious and potentially explosive political situation in Ethiopia.” Shinn partially agrees with that observation but offers an explanation.
“We don’t know everything that has happened quietly behind the scenes. All we know is what has been stated publically. Also, there have been so many other issues that have consumed the international community that this issue has not loomed very large on the agendas of foreign governments, including that of the United States.”
The former diplomat said the United States, for its part, has made periodic calls for improvements in the human rights situation and the democratic process in general.VOA made repeated attempts to speak with an official of the Ethiopian Embassy here in Washington.No one was available to provide comments on the ICG report. VOA correspondent Peter Heinlein reports from Addis Ababa that government spokesman Bereket Simon has pledged to hold a press conference on the ICG report in the near future.