Part Two: Commentary on Ato Lidetu’s interview with the Voice of America
Relatively speaking, these points were easy to understand compared to “the third way” that I want to address today. It seems to me that, so far, the concept of the third way is not properly understood or debated. I, for one, do not know exactly what the third way mean. I also suspect that it is a work-in-progress concept for the party. In this article, for that matter for lack of choice, I have tried to eliminate what the third way “isn’t” rather than what “it is” to get closer to its real meaning.
5. The Third Way/ The Third alternative. What is it?
This is another interesting and new concept that was introduced in Ethiopian politics by EDP about two years ago. Conceptually we have been told EDP’s third way is different from the third way of Tony Blair. It doesn’t also mean taking the middle ground between the opposition and the government since most of EDP’s political programme and economic policies stand at the farthest far side of the opposition. It is also clear that it is not used as a byword for a bipartisan politics.
So what is it? Is the third way synonymous with ethical politics? May be yes or may be not. However, if third way means an emphasis on ethical politics, the necessary conclusion is that we are departing from Ethiopia’s revolutionary generation motto of “the end justifies the means” politics by placing the emphasis not only on the end but also on the means as well.
That is why I believe this topic needs further scrutiny and reflection to understand what exactly it means; not necessarily to pigeonhole it in pre-defined categories but also to understand where we are heading. But before reaching to any conclusion, let us compare it with what it isn’t to get closer to the real meaning.
The Third Way Ideology: The academic community defines Tony Blair’s “The Third Way” as political philosophy of governance that embraces a mix of market and interventionist philosophies. The third way of New Labour is commonly viewed as representing a centrist compromise between capitalism and socialism, or between market liberalism and democratic socialism. Simply it is a synthesis of these competing views and ideologies primarily designed to distance the Labour Party from control of the labour union and make it acceptable to middle-class electorates.
EDP’s third way is totally different since it has no allegiance to any class or group. Furthermore, the party itself professes to be a liberal democratic party with no allegiance to any class or group of people except individuals. Hence it is not the same as the New Labour’s third way that can be eliminated from discussion. So if it is not an ideological driven third way, then what is it? Does it mean middle way?
The middle way: From discussions I had with good friends, EDP’s third way is perceived as a mid-way between the opposition and the government. If the public understand EDP as a party that would take the middle ground just for the sake of it, it could damage the party’s visions and ambitions. As I can understand it from EDP’s political programme, the party indeed stands at farther end of the political spectrum in some polices like; the supremacy of individual rights, the issue of Ethiopia’s access to the sea, on ethnic federalism, land ownership and creating urban and industrial based economy as opposed to agricultural-led economy.
So it cannot possibly be taken as a party of the middle way. As Ato Lidetu stated in the interview, most of the opposition parties like that of Dr. Beyene are probably closer to the ruling party than EDP. Hence, looking at EDP’s political programme and economic policy, EDP cannot be a party of the middle ground and this perception too can be safely eliminated.
Bipartisan Politics: The other confusion of EDP’s third way is with bipartisan politics of the West. Bipartisan political strategy is common in the West. In fact it was one of President Obama’s political campaigns during election. (We all remember the speech: “We are not the red state or the blue state, we are the United States of America”).
EDP now holds a pragmatic position and willing to adopt a bipartisan approach towards politics. If that is what the party has in mind, then it needs further explanation. The party could adopt a bipartisan political stand on development, national security and interest of the country. But Bipartisan politics is effective when one party is not a dominant force in a Parliament or seeks to build a consensus political culture across the party line.
To achieve a bipartisan political culture there has to be a radical shift in the mindset of the ruling party. As they say, it takes two for a tango. If the government is not ready for bipartisan politics, EDP’s third way could be perceived as one-way backing of the government. That could substantially damage the vision and goals of the party.
Ethical Politics: The last alternative that appears close to Ato Lidetu’s definition of the third way is probably adopting an ethical politics. Ato Lidetu repeatedly remarked that EDP will not have a “blind support or blind opposition” policy. This is probably close to saying that we are adopting an ethical and rational political culture which is contradictory to the long standing Ethiopian Students Movement Stalinist political culture which is anchored in the principle of “the end justifies the means approach”.
Though the end justifies the means was first advocated in Niccolo Machiavelli’s writing, it is the Bolshevik party that nurtured it into full blossom. Since the 1920s, Joseph Stalin, Leon Trotsky, Mao, our wannabe revolutionary generation as well as modern day terrorists zealously adhere to the end justifies the means philosophy. Terror, defamation, lies, and negative campaigns were part and parcel of the Ethiopia’s revolutionary generation and still it is the main political strategy. So, if the party means the third alternative as a departure from the Ethiopia’s revolutionary political culture then it needs to be properly articulated and defined.
In conclusion, I could only guess EDP’s third way is predominantly an attempt to undo the Stalinist political culture by adopting an ethnical politics and partly having a bipartisan approach to politics. If it indeed means that, then I do not have a problem but there is a down side to EDP unless it is properly articulated to the public.
The danger with the third way
There are few major pitfalls with the third way approach.
First, the perception of the public is as important as the content of policies of a party. If the public perceive the third way as a softly-softly middle ground approach to the policy of the government, then they may not rally behind the party.
Second, the role of the opposition is primarily to oppose the government. Once this principle is anchored, how that can be achieved falls in strategy. In the strategy, a wide shade of approach such as positive encouragement, bipartisan engagement, strong opposition, or even denunciation can be used on merit of each case and policy. These are strategies and should not be perceived as the primary role of the opposition. Unless these are clearly understood by the public, it could have a negative impact on achieving the party’s vision.
Third, the third way may mean the party is limiting its ambition. For example, in most democratic countries like UK there are two major parties: the ruling and the opposition. But there are also small parties like the Liberal Democratic Party that had a luxury to adopt the third alternative. Simply the Liberal Democratic Party has no chance of coming to power. So they have no desire to lie, deceive or exaggerate (play politics) to win vote. They speak only what they believe in compared to competing parties. As Ato Lidetu said, EDP is the only party that has a distinct vision and goal from that of the ruling party. Hence, it should also aspire to be the major opposition party than restrict itself to the role of smaller parties.
In conclusion, the third way or the third alternative is a broad subject that deserves further discussion. Debating this issue could shine light on the last 40 years of revolutionary political culture to bring about a paradigm shift in Ethiopian politics.
On the VOA interviewer’s professionalism:
I was very disappointed by Tizeta Belachew when this topic was discussed. She failed to ask Ato Lidetu pointed questions. She only accepted Ato Lidetu’s brief explanation with no meaningful challenge; may be for lack of grasp of the complex concept or sound preparation. Ato Lidetu was allowed to state broadly and briefly what he meant by the third alternative. He briefly stated as a political stand which avoids blanket support or opposition to the EPRDF. In other words, he stated EDP will either support or oppose EPRDF with reason only.
The above statement may sound all right if not scrutinized carefully. Many well meaning critics of Ato Lidetu and EDP base their arguments on his and the party’s misguided approach of articulating EPRDF’s good sides to the detriment of EDP’s future strength.
Tizeta Belachew should have reminded and in fact confronted Ato Lidetu with follow up questions that, even in Western democracy, the main job of the opposition is to oppose but not to highlight the good sides of the government. EPRDF has got its own well paid cadres to highlight the positive of works of the party; hence, EPRDF may not desperately need Ato Lidetu and EDP in this regard.
As a prudent and pragmatist opposition party, EDP should focus on highlighting EDP’s difference with the EPRDF, how EDP would fare better where EPRDF terribly failed and why EDP should be considered as the future party of Ethiopia. That is the job of an opposition party.