You are on page 1of 5


En Franais









The Reporter (Addis Ababa)



30 MAY 2015

Ethiopia: The Culprit Is Not First-Past-the-Post




My Account






Ethiopia: Criticising Global Capitalism With a
Scifi Movie Set in Ethiopia

Tagged: East Africa Ethiopia Governance

Africa: China Announces USD 60 Bln, Drought

Aid for Africa


Ethiopia: Rebalancing Economic Growth

By Gedion Timothewos Hessebon (SJD)

East Africa

I am writing this in response to the questions and comments I have

received in relation to the interview I have given to The Reporter
newspaper last week.
Most of these comments and questions have revolved around the
suitability of first-past-the-post (FPTP) as an electoral system for the
election of members of the House of Peoples' Representatives of the
Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. If you would indulge me, I
would like to address some of these comments and questions.
First let me explain the difference between FPTP and PR, i.e.
proportional electoral systems. The traditional first-past-the-post
electoral system is an electoral system in which the country is divided
into electoral districts or constituencies that are equal in number with
the number of seats available in the legislative house. Then from each
constituency, one representative or member of the legislature is
elected. The winner of the election in each constituency is the
candidate who won the most votes in that constituency. The candidate
does not have to win the majority of votes in that constituency. As long
as she or he wins the most votes as compared with every other
candidate in that constituency, that candidate will be considered the

Somalia: Opposition Parties

Order President to Vacate
State House by the 10th
Africa: Rwanda's Kagame
Says Politicising Justice Is a
Form of 'Lawfare'
Africa: Mozambique and
Tanzania in Battle for Gas
Tanzania: Opposition Party
to Hold Demos in Spite of
Police Ban

Kenya: President Kenyatta
Travels to Addis for Summit
on South Sudan
Ethiopia: Enhancing Public
Involvement Central to
Sustainable Land
Management Success
Ethiopia: Ministry Says
Improving Internal Strength
Widens International
Africa: 'A Malaria-Free
Africa Is in Sight.' H.E.
President Jakaya Kikwete


In proportional electoral systems, it is possible to consider the whole

country as one electoral district or to divide it into several large
electoral districts that return multiple deputies or representatives to
parliament. In each electoral district or as the case may be for the
entire country, parties will issue a list of candidates who are contesting
for seas in the legislature on behalf or on the ticket of each party. Then
voters cast their vote for the party of their choice and each party will be
allocated seats in parliament that are proportional to the percentage of
votes it has received nationally or in each electoral district.
At this juncture, it should be pointed out that these are not the only
possible electoral systems out there. There are mixed electoral
systems as well as electoral systems such as Alternative Voting or AV
electoral systems. Nevertheless, due to the fact that they are very
complicated and difficult to administer for electoral management
bodies and quite confusing for voters, the other electoral systems are
not advisable for a country like Ethiopia where both the voters and the
electoral management body could be overwhelmed by the complexity
of such electoral systems. In a country like Ethiopia where a large
segment of the population is illiterate, simplicity of an electoral system
is a virtue to treasure. Therefore, I would say that when we take that in
to account, our options in Ethiopia are for now limited to PR and FPTP.

Africa: Why Morocco

Should Be Barred From the
African Union
Zimbabwe: Protest
Movement Gains Steam
Zimbabwe: War Veterans
Block Elections
Zimbabwe: Fresh Cabinet
Reshuffle Looms

Ethiopia: Remembering the Revolution

Ethiopia: Hush! No Critic Needed
Ethiopia: Guramayle - At the Epicenter of ArtShow
Ethiopia: Nyala Insurance Compensates

Both FPTP and PR have their own advantages and disadvantages.

PR electoral systems have two great merits. The first is the fact that
PR electoral systems are inherently fairer than FPTP. PR electoral
systems reduce wastage of votes even though they might not
necessarily eliminate the possibility that votes will be wasted,
particularly when there is a minimum threshold requirement a party
must meet in order to enter in to parliament (in most PR systems for a
party to secure a seat in parliament it needs to win at least five percent
of the votes nationally, therefore, if a party only gets let's say four
percent of the votes nationally, the votes cast for this particular party
would be wasted). The other advantage of PR systems is the fact that
it enables relatively small parties that might represent geographically
dispersed minorities get seats in parliament. Therefore, many
scholars advocate that it should be the electoral system of choice in
countries that want minorities to have a fair and equitable
representation in their legislative houses.
On the other hand, the major disadvantages of PR electoral systems
are, its tendency to encourage fragmentation in the political landscape
and the likelihood that it ends up in perpetually hung parliaments where
no single party can command a majority. In countries with PR electoral
systems, various small, extremist parties would easily secure seats in
parliament and make both the formation of government and the
process of governance a herculean feat. Particularly, in an ethnically
divided society like Ethiopia, there is a real risk that PR will lead to the
emergence of a plethora of small radical and extreme ethno-nationalist
parties, which would barely be able to work with one another. This is
why I am opposed to the adoption of PR for the election of members of
the House of Peoples' Representatives. PR will lead to the rise of a
fractured, extremely polarized political party system and instable
governments that will be often unable to secure majorities needed to
form and lead governments. That is not a prospect I am thrilled about.
In some European countries with PR systems, the average duration of
governments was six months. In affluent countries with little ethnic
diversity, that might be something they could live with, but in a country
like Ethiopia, PR could be a recipe for disaster.

However, I must point out that, while I object to PR being implemented

for election of members of the HPR, as I have argued elsewhere, it
would be a good idea to consider the adoption of PR for election of
members of the House of Federation which is supposed to be the
house in which the various ethnic groups comprising Ethiopia are
supposed to be represented.
Having laid out my objections to PR being adopted in Ethiopia, I will
now proceed to making the case for FPTP. First-past-the-post, as has
been observed through empirical studies in political science, often
encourages the rise of two major political parties. The prime example
for this is the experience of countries like the US and the UK. We
could also consider the experience of African countries like Ghana.
Particularly the experience of Ghana is instructive in this regard. Due
to the FPTP electoral system it has adopted, two political parties have
emerged in Ghana as the major contenders of power. The reason why
FPTP has such an effect is because in FPTP electoral systems,
voters realize that if they vote for small, fringe parties their votes will be

wasted. As a result, voters will be likely to cast their votes only to the
two or three biggest parties in elections conducted with an FPTP
electoral system. This in return encourages political parties to merge
or form coalition or fronts before elections. That is exactly what
happened during the 2005 Ethiopian national election. During that
election, there were only three major contenders and that in my view
was attributable to the FPTP electoral system.
Now, you might ask, why is it desirable to have two or three major
contenders in an election for parliament as opposed to 10 or 15. The
answer is the fact that if the major contenders for parliamentary seats
are two or three, we are more likely to see the formation of a stable
and strong government capable of commanding a comfortable
majority. This in my view is desirable in a country like Ethiopia where
our poverty and location in an unstable and hostile neighborhood
makes a stable and strong government a necessity. Another reason
why it is desirable in my view to have two or three major contenders
for parliamentary seats in Ethiopia, which is the natural consequence
of FPTP, is the fact that in such a system political elites across ethnic
groups will be forced to work with one another. Such a system
encourages moderation and compromise across ethnic groups, which
in my view is something we need very badly. What I have stated above
are the major advantages of FPTP. FPTP is also desirable for
accountability of Members of parliament (MP) since each voter would
know who is the MP that represents his electoral district. This makes
MPs more responsive to the needs of their constituency and its
particular local issues that need to be brought before parliament.

Finally, let me address one of the major comments I have received in

relation to the FPTP electoral system in Ethiopia. Some argue that
given the overwhelming and sweeping victory of the Ethiopian Peoples'
Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in the 2010 as well as the
2015 elections, which has precluded the emergence of a meaningful
parliamentary opposition in Ethiopia, perhaps we need to switch to a
PR system. This argument and the underlying sentiments are quite
understandable because there cannot be a healthy and stable
democracy if there is no parliamentary opposition. If the views of those
who oppose the incumbent cannot be heard in parliament then they
will find an outlet in other less peaceful and constructive forms.
However, I would contend that to blame FPTP for the virtual exclusion
of the opposition from parliament is unjustified. The culprit for the
dangerous and embarrassing absence of a meaningful parliamentary
opposition in Ethiopia is not FPTP, it is rather the chronic and sever
deficit of political freedom we are suffering from. The fact that the
opposition did not have adequate space and freedom to organize,
solicit funds, support and membership as well as the very limited
possibility that the opposition had to communicate its views to the
public, call demonstrations and hold assemblies are why we are
seeing the kind of result we had seen in 2010. The landslide victories
that make even some supporters of the EPRDF cringe have little to do
with FPTP and much to do with the environment of fear in which being
political dissent has become dangerous.
Ed.'s Note: Gedion Timothewos Hessebon (SJD) is a constitutional
law instructor at Addis Ababa University, School of Law. The views
expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The


Kenya: President Kenyatta Travels to Addis for

Summit on South Sudan

Copyright 2015 The Reporter. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media ( To contact the
copyright holder directly for corrections or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this
material, click here.
AllAfrica publishes around 1,000 reports a day from more than 140 news organizations and over 500 other
institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging
from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above
each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.
Articles and commentaries that identify as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To
address comments or complaints, please Contact us.

Ethiopia: Enhancing Public Involvement Central

to Sustainable Land Management Success
Ethiopia: Ministry Says Improving Internal
Strength Widens International Influence
Africa: 'A Malaria-Free Africa Is in Sight.' H.E.
President Jakaya Kikwete
Ethiopia: Land Reproaching to Solve
Ethiopia: Authority Launches Books On


Ethiopia: Bold Move to Address Health Professionals


Ethiopia: From Face-to-Face to Facebook-to-Facebook

Ethiopia: Kana - Good or Bad?

Ethiopia: Protests in Gonder City Signal Uncertain


Ethiopia: 'Ayteyefe' - the Largest Historical Hall

Ethiopia: Capitalizing On the Rio Olympics

Ethiopia: Undivided Attention to Motherland

Ethiopia: Geothermal Energy Heats Up With Royalty

Payment Exemption

Nigeria: Ethiopian Airline Launches A350-900 Aircraft

in Kano


Ethiopia: Ethio-Eritrean Relations Revisited


Zimbabwe: Advise Your Father to Resign, Mugabe's

Daughter Told

Zimbabwe: Aliko Dangote Team Denied Zim Visas

South Africa: #ElectionResults - Joburg and Pretoria

Are Too Close to Call

Nigeria: The Shattering of the Buhari Mythology

South Africa: DA Has Approached Us for a Coalition in

Nelson Mandela Bay - Holomisa

Nigeria: Kanu Can't Renounce Biafra, Says Wife

Zimbabwe: Ruling Party Expels Top Officials

Egypt: Egypt Receives Offensive Missile Vessel From


Nigeria: Mikel Obi Officially Changes His Name


Africa: Tanzania to Earn Sh1 Billion Yearly After

Retaking Airspace


Nigeria: Siasia Picks

Squad for Rio Olympics

Ugandan Students
Strike Over Mini-Skirt

South Africa's Local

Election Results Coming

Ugandan President's
Photo 'Breaks' the

Nigerian Actress Halima

Abubakar Defends
'Virginity' Comment



External Relations

East Africa: Civil Society Groups Call For EU Trade Deal R

South Africa: With Whom Should We Form Coalition? - EF

Kenya: SportPesa Announce Arsenal Partnership Extension

(New Times)


(Capital FM)

East Africa: Dar es Salaam to Become Regional Hub for C

Somalia: Opposition Parties Order President to Vacate Sta

Senegal: Maid in Saudi Arabia Could Face Death Penalty

(Daily News)

(Dalsan Radio)

(Thomson Reuters Foundation)

Africa: What Africa Can Learn From the Tyranny of Primar

Africa: Why Morocco Should Be Barred From the African

Africa: Why Morocco Should Be Barred From the African

(New Times)

(Daily News)

(Daily News)

Africa: Ban On Used Clothing Requires a Holistic Approach

Zimbabwe: Protest Movement Gains Steam

Africa: Rwanda's Kagame Says Politicising Justice Is a Fo

(New Times)


(New Times)




Tanzania: Govt Announces U.S.$30 Billion Gas Plant Inves

Cameroon: 2016 GCE Results - Increased Passes Recor

South Sudan: Humanitarian Crisis Eminent As Violence Lo

(Daily News)

(Cameroon Tribune)


Nigeria: Abdullahi - Solution to Aviation Fuel Scarcity Is Lo

Liberia: Mass Failure in Senior High School Exams

South Sudan: South Sudan Humanitarian Situation Could

(This Day)


(Al Jazeera)

Africa: Libyan Sovereign Wealth Fund Case Offers Good

Malawi: President Bows to Pressure, Reduces Fees Amid

Nigeria: Malnutrition Can Only End After IDPs Are Resettle

(Oil in Uganda)

(Nyasa Times)


Nigeria: Nigeria's Oil Industry and a Better Funding Alterna

Zimbabwe: Graduates Lack Skills, Says Professor Moyo

South Sudan: S. Sudan Refugees Face Difficulty in Esca


(The Herald)


AllAfrica is a voice of, by and about Africa - aggregating, producing and distributing 1,000
news and information items daily from over 140 African news organizations and our own
reporters to an African and global public. We operate from Cape Town, Dakar, Lagos,
Monrovia, Nairobi and Washington DC.
2016 AllAfrica // Privacy // Contact
AllAfrica - All the Time


You might also like