Asmelash Yohannes (PhD, Mekelle University School of Law)
From strategic point of view, the leaders of TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) know, or they are predicting to say the least, that the ruling EPDRF party may not survive the upcoming general election. You can call this a gamble or a bluff! But it could make sense if you have the time to crunch the numbers!
TPLF is with no doubt credited with the creation of the different parties that the ruling party EPDRF is composed of. Thus, their strategic calculation and prediction should not be undermined. They are betting that ODP (Oromo Democratic Party) and ADP (Amhara Democratic Party) would be victims of their own political making: the ‘reform’ championed by both parties would backfire spectacularly and it would either sweep them into the trash bin! or would highly weaken them politically. This thinking is based on different factors. ODP and ADP are going to face an uphill battle in their home turf in the upcoming general election as they are going to compete against opposition parties that have strong support at grass roots level. For example, ODP would compete against OLF (Oromo Liberation Front) and OFC (Oromo Federalist Congress) in Oromia region. OLF, despite the splitting of the party into different factions due to internal power struggle, has a strong support throughout Oromia. The reception of OLF’s leader Abbo Dawud Ebsa at Addis Ababa from his self imposed exile had attracted millions of people. Main streets and road junctions in many cities of Oromia region are still painted with the flag of OLF. On the other hand, OFC is led by charismatic political veterans: both Dr. Merrara Gudena and Bekella Gerba wield greater influence in Oromia than that of the current president of Oromia region Abbo Shimelis Abdissa. Thus, TPLFites are of the opinion that ODP’s share of the ballots in Oromia region would be snatched by OLF and OFC. Furthermore, Jawar Mohammed, a political fire brand of the Querro movement, is a force that needs to be reckoned with. His decision to support either of the political opponents of ODP could be a game changer.
Further north, every political observer in Ethiopia understands that ADP of Amhara region is at crossroads. The assassination of high ranking political leaders of ADP in June 2019 was the last thing the party needed. Even before this unfortunate event, the party was under immense pressure from new and emerging nationalist parties. Nationalist parties led by National Movement of Amhara (NMA) and other vocal activists residing abroad have managed to shrink the influence of ADP in Amhara region. This was factored by TPLF strategists. TPLFites are dead sure that the combination of internal power struggle within ADP and the threat from nationalist parties in Amhara would hasten the demise of ADP.
In General, TPLF seems to conclude that ODP and ADP would be at perilous situation at the next general election. The flip side of their argument is that TPLF can comfortably win the election in Tigray as they still seem to command the support of the elite and ordinary people. There are four opposition parties in Tigray: National Congress of Great Tigray (BAITONA), Third Revolution Tigray (TRT), ARENA Tigray, and TAND (Tigray Alliance for National Democracy). However, these four parties don’t seem to mobilize people and their support in Tigray is not something that could threaten the dominance of TPLF. If the next election is to be held as planned, there’s no doubt that TPLF will garner significant support in Tigray to overwhelmingly sweep all seats for the regional and national parliaments. However, the future for ODP and ADP is very bleak. TPLFites have officially and unofficially started to proclaim that they would seek coalition with other federalist parties if ODP and ADP fail to win sufficient votes in the next general election.
I am not in a position to ridicule the calculations of the TPLF strategists nor am I going to give them thumps up. But nothing would surprise me if Prime Minister Abiy decides to postpone the general election for fear of losing his grip on power. He perfectly understands that he stands zero chance of staying at the helm if ODP and ADP lose ground in Oromia and Amhara, respectively. For this reason, he may decide to postpone the election indefinitely until he feels comfortable that the survival of EPRDF is not under any threat. However, it would not surprise me a bit if the ruling coalition party disintegrates before the general election is held! These days, only fools would dare to predict what the future holds for the country.