The Role of Multiparty System in Ethiopia

6 June 2016


This paper basically attempts to identify and critically examine the role of a multi-party system in Ethiopia. Besides laying emphasis on the role of multi-party system in Ethiopia, it discusses the notion of what a multi-party system is, the distinctiveness it has and outlines the countries in which it is put into effect. Furthermore, this paper compares the multi-party system that exists in Ethiopia with other nations that currently endorse the system and highlights the compounding problems which hamper the consolidation and furtherance of a truly competitive multi-party democracy in Ethiopia.

The Role of Multiparty System in Ethiopia Essay Example

Before delving deeper into the issue at hand, it is only necessary to clarify the accepted definition of political parties in general and multiparty system in specific. This, we shall provide in the later section. This short paper has the following parts. The first part will be an introduction, the second part discusses the meaning and the conception of the multiparty system in the world, the third part attempts to identify and critically examine the role of multiparty system in Ethiopia.1 Finally, in the last part of the paper a conclusion is made.

The meaning of Multi-party is very much related to democracy. Some convincing definitions of Multi-party system are: A multi-party system is a political system where the various ideas and points of views of the society are represented by respective political parties which are equally given chances of fully exercising the opportunity to gain control over government offices and participate in political issues.

A multi-party system is a political system that is inclusive in its participation and contains a leveled playing field to all political parties as well as provides an independent regulatory system that checks the imbalance of power and influence in each of its legitimate political parties. A multi-party system can be defined system of government in which more than two2 political parties truly have chances and capacities to gain real political and government power.

A multi-party system can also be described as a political system where political parties, organized based on their own views, ideas and values, are given the opportunities to be elected by citizens and have the right to participate in government offices representing the different views of the people.

The pertinence of the Multi-party system was expressed by John Stuart Mill as, “A party of order or stability, and a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life.” There are many misconceptions concerning the definitions of multi-party and two- party systems. The prominent one includes mistaking two party system for a multiparty system on the basis of the number of parties involved. Nevertheless, a two-party system is a different government system in which only two political parties have a serious chance of claiming executive power even though there are other existing parties.

History and Conception of Multi -party System

Human beings constitute a major resource of a country. It is also true that human beings naturally differ from one another in their views and outlooks. As long as there are opportunities that can accommodate the different outlooks of human beings for the common good of all, the different outlooks will certainly make a good asset for the social, economic and political transformation of a society. The role multi-party system can play in this regard is quite immense. Actually using various outlooks for a common good was the underlying principle behind the conception of multi-party system in the world.

Though Ethiopia has relatively longer history in elections, which was believed to have started almost a century ago, at the time of the monarchy, the concept of multi-party system is just ‘an infant on its knees’3. The country had generally been characterized by absence of accommodating various outlooks for almost all of its history. As a result of that grim reality, the country was characterized by protracted civil wars, which were basically the off-shots of different outlooks that could have peacefully been resolved, had there been multi-party system in the country.

The very concept of Multi-party system came to life in Ethiopia in ‘Ginbot’ 20, 1983 Ethiopian Calendar, which is after the time EPRDF overthrew the tyranny invoking military regime known as the Dergue and controlled the country. After the Dergue was overthrown, the first ’round table’ discussion among various political forces and scholars from in and outside Ethiopia defeated the one rule and joined hands to establish a better advance known as the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE) which led to the adoption of the TGE Charter in ‘Sene’ 1983 Ethiopian Calendar. This charter has made a revolutionary chronology in the birth of the Multi-party System. Then the consolidation of the infant Multi-party system stepped ahead through the establishment of the Electoral Commission with the proclamation number 11/1984 as per provision of charter of transitional period.

It was independent and non partisan. This aided to make the election process a fair and free one; a perfect weapon for a perfect cause. The Commission undertook one of its assignments in the election of the constitutional assembly in Hidar, 1987. This assembly constituting 510 participants was crucial in adoption of the constitution of Ethiopia and in the emergence of Multi party system. In the adopted constitution, it was wisely put that any citizen has the right to gather, form a political group, to elect and be elected if preferred by the mass. Nonetheless, there were such promising foundations of Multi-party democracy, some doubt the intensification of a truly competitive multi-party democracy in Ethiopia ever since, beyond the proliferation of political parties.4

The Role of Multi-party System in Ethiopia

Though the experiences in countries like Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark and Germany with long tradition of multi-party system have shown stable and successful governments, Multi-party system can still have some side effects on the existence of highly fluid party politics. For that reason, the role of multi-party system in Ethiopia shall be treated in two foremost and easy ways. Positive Roles in the Context of Ethiopia

A multi-party system prevents the leadership of a single party from controlling a single legislative chamber without challenge. The domination of a legislative by the ruling party (the one that won majority of seats in the parliament) particularly in countries advocating the parliamentary form of government, like Ethiopia, is a challenging dilemma, since proclamations which doesn’t have support and acceptance among the people can easily be ratified without any challenge or opposition.

For this not to occur, there need to be a lot of political parties in the game. How many such political parties is a problematic issue but in the long run, some three or four; bigger and more or less ideologically cohesive and with comparable political weight need to exist if there is going to be a multi-party election with alternative choices to the voter. A multi-party system promotes coalition-building skills while discouraging polarization. It is lucid that if there are multiple parties, each with less than a majority of vote, the parties are strongly motivated to work together to form working governments.

The regroupings of the political parties of Ethiopia usually made at the height of elections in the form of coalitions, unions and fronts etc in an effort to pull joint strength is the reason for the usual decrease in number of the contesting parties than the legally registered ones. A multi-party system encourages the general constituency (electorate) to form multiple distinct, officially recognized groups, generally called political parties. Unlike a single-party or two-party system, a multi-party system leans towards encouraging the formation of political parties. In Ethiopia, this might have been achieved by the establishment of the Electoral Commission with the proclamation number 11/1984 as per the provision of the Charter of the transitional period.

Side Effects of Multi-party system in Ethiopia

Even if Multi-party system is suitable for parliamentary form of government and representative democracy, some still argue that Multi-party system imposes negative influences. These side effects of Multi-party system in Ethiopia will be briefly discussed in the following manner. The ruling party or other ones may cause inflationary disequilibrium by making tall promises to the voters. As Multi-party system factually proliferates the number of political parties which are either legally registered or contesting (or both), it creates a tight competition which may lead them to speak ‘unattainable’ developmental promises to the electorate just for the sake of obtaining the majority vote. In the long run, the failure to attain the tall promises might, finally, result in discontent among the people which in turn might lead to political instability due to aggressive oppositions. This is the true case in Ethiopia, where most parties can’t ‘walk the talk’.5

The existence of multiple political parties propounds an irresponsible opposition. The existence of manifold political parties multitude of  ideologies more likely leads to unstable tension and opens a door for irresponsible opposition as a result of hatred and enmity. This case is profoundly observed in Ethiopia where some political parties oppose pertinent policies set by the ruling party just for the sake of opposing. This stance of these political parties contribute to the absence of ‘real’ choices in multiparty elections which is nearly the same as committing a suicide.

It creates a problems lack of cohesion in coalitional form of government, which at times create political uncertainty/instability. Even though a multiparty system encourages coalition building by parties to pull a joint strength, it can also lead, in the meantime, to lack of cohesion as one stand which consecutively leaves a country in an ocean of great chaos and instability. 6

A multi-party system delays the ratification of final policies specifically in a parliamentary form of government because of the difficulty in securing majority of votes. The existence of comparable seats among different and opposing political parties in the parliament, leads to difficulty of securing majority of votes which slows down the ratification process. This is not currently a predicament in Ethiopia, since the majority of the seats of the House of People’s Representatives are occupied by the single ruling party, though it could be one dilemma if opposition parties become competent to win, in the near future.

It excludes smaller parties from ‘fair’ representation, in a sense that a party which wins, approximately, say, 10 percent of the votes should win approximately 10 percent of the legislative seats. But this doesn’t happen to be the case in the pattern.

It can encourage the development of political parties based on clan, ethnicity or region, which may base their campaigns and policy platforms on conceptions that are attractive to the majority of people in their district or region but exclude or are hostile to others. This ongoing problem of multi-party system is not noticeable in Ethiopia as compared to other African countries like Malawi and Kenya.7


There is a growing interest and willingness in Ethiopia to experience a vibrant, truly competitive Multi-party system. Indeed, a Multi-party system could play positive and constructive role in Ethiopia’s quest for good governance and democratization. The democratic function of the multi-party system lies in its capacity to accommodate the different outlooks of people for the common good of all where the different outlooks will certainly make a good asset for the social, economic and political transformation of a society.

Even if the experience of Ethiopian multi-party system is limited, examining the roles of multi-party system in the democratization of the country is crucially important. In fact when we consider the negative roles of Multi-party system in the political development of Ethiopia, we will be led to lay our hope on prospect of national unity and cooperation. The fruition of hope that we put on, however, needs our capability of addressing some of the most important challenges that Multi-party democracy faces today such as lack of internal democracy, weak and divided opposition parties, fragmentation on ethnic and religious cleavages and others.

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