Thursday, September 10, 2009

Interview with VOA English-language service to Africa

The VOA asked me today to comment on the decision by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi represents the party again in national elections in 2010. Meles, who has hinted that he might not run in 2010, has led Ethiopia continuously since 1991. I responded that this decision still leaves open the possibility Prime Minister Meles will not run. Even though the EPRDF has asked Meles to run again in 2010 as the party’s choice, theoretically he still has the option to step down. I doubt this will happen, but it nevertheless remains a possibility. The party decision is obviously good for the future of the EPRDF, but I don’t believe it advances the democratic process in Ethiopia. I am a strong supporter of term limits for a country’s most important political leader. Although Ethiopia’s constitution established term limits for the presidency, it did not do so for the position of prime minister. From my humble position as an outsider but friend of Ethiopia, I always thought this was a mistake. Term limits, assuming they are adhered to by the incumbent administration, ensure the possibility of policy change and help to institutionalize democratic government. Term limits are an essential part of democracy. When asked about a recent report that the Ethiopian political opposition is not capable of running the country, I acknowledged that the opposition is poorly funded and politically divided. This does not mean, however, that it is incapable of running the country. The only way to find out is to put the matter to a vote of the Ethiopian people. If they vote in the opposition, it must then prove itself. When asked why the international community has not devoted more attention to the political situation in Ethiopia, I noted that in the case of the United States there are many other international issues deemed more important than the internal political situation in Ethiopia. In addition, we only know what has been said publicly to Ethiopian officials. We have no way of knowing what the United States and other countries have been said privately. For its part, the United States has been critical publicly of certain human rights practices and has urged that Ethiopia institute democratic practices. The VOA story with my quotes is available here. Image: Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia's Prime Minister, from Flickr (creative commons). User: aheavens.

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