Discomfiture of democracy? The 2005 election crisis in Ethiopia and its aftermath

G.J. Abbink

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In this article, I assess the nature and the impact of the May 2005 Ethiopian parliamentary elections on Ethiopian politics. The elections, although controversial and flawed, showed significant gains for the opposition but led to a crisis of the entire democratization process. I revisit Ethiopian political culture in the light of neo-patrimonial theory and ask why the political system has stagnated and slid back into authoritarianism. Most analyses of post-1991 Ethiopian politics discuss the formal aspects of the political system but do not deal sufficiently with power politics in a historical perspective. There is a continued need to reconceptualize the analysis of politics in Ethiopia, and Africa in general, in more cultural and historical terms, away from the formal political science approaches that have predominated. The success of transitional democracy is also dependent on a countervailing middle class, which is suppressed in Ethiopia. Also, political-judicial institutions are still precarious, and their operation is dependent on the current political elite and caught in the politics of the dominant (ruling) party. All these refer back to the historically engrained authoritarian/hierarchical tradition in Ethiopian politics. On the basis of the electoral process, the post-election manoeuvring, the role of opposition forces, and the violent crisis in late 2005, I address the Ethiopian political process in the light of governance traditions and of resurrected neo-patrimonial rule that, in effect, tend to block further democratization. © 2006 Oxford University Press.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-27
Number of pages27
JournalAfrican Affairs
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2006


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