Eritrea's Singular Political Landscape: Exploring the Interplay of Autocracy and Centralization

Eritrea's Singular Political Landscape: Exploring the Interplay of Autocracy and Centralization

Eritrea, a small yet geopolitically significant country in the Horn of Africa, boasts a complex and often misunderstood political system. Governed by a single-party system and a strong central authority, Eritrea has been criticized internationally for its perceived autocracy and lack of democratic processes.

The Eritrean political system is intrinsically tied to the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), the ruling and only political party permitted in the country. The PFDJ has its roots in the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF), which played a crucial role in the country's independence struggle against Ethiopia from 1961 to 1991. Post-independence, the EPLF reconstituted itself as the PFDJ in 1994, maintaining an uninterrupted hold on the nation's political dynamics.

The central figure of Eritrean politics has been President Isaias Afwerki, in office since the country's independence in 1993. His dominance is emblematic of the overall political framework of Eritrea, where power is centralized and absolute, without constitutional term limits for the presidency.

A proposed constitution was drafted and ratified in 1997 after a lengthy consultative process involving various stakeholders. Despite this, it was never implemented. The constitution envisioned a separation of powers, with the executive, legislative, and judicial branches acting independently. It proposed a multi-party system, elections every five years, and the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms. However, the indefinite postponement of its implementation has led to widespread criticism and concern.

In the absence of an active constitution, the National Assembly has been the sole legislative body, albeit one that has not convened since 2002. Initially, it consisted of 150 members, 75 of whom were from the Central Committee of the PFDJ, while the rest were elected from the 527-member Constituent Assembly, a body formed after Eritrea's independence referendum.

With no legislative meetings, there is a lack of legislative oversight. The judiciary, in theory, is supposed to operate independently, but in practice, it is largely under the control of the executive branch. This consolidation of power has resulted in a governance style that leans heavily toward authoritarianism, causing numerous human rights concerns.

Eritrea's political system is also marked by its mandatory and indefinite national service. Under the pretext of national security threats, primarily from border disputes with Ethiopia, all Eritreans are obliged to undergo military training and service, a practice that has been heavily criticized by human rights organizations due to its open-ended nature and often harsh conditions.

The country's political climate is heavily influenced by its tense and often hostile relationships with neighboring nations, particularly Ethiopia. Although the 2018 peace treaty between Eritrea and Ethiopia has reduced tensions, the animosity dating back decades continues to shape Eritrea's political and security policies. Moreover, regional alliances and conflicts, such as those involving the Gulf nations, also have a significant impact on Eritrean politics.

Eritrea's political system is devoid of conventional democratic mechanisms such as free and fair elections, an active legislature, and a functioning judiciary. The concentration of power in the hands of a single party and the presidency, along with the non-implementation of the constitution, are major obstacles to the political evolution of the country.

The international community has expressed concern over the lack of political pluralism and basic freedoms, including freedom of speech, press, and assembly. Several UN reports have documented cases of indefinite detentions, enforced disappearances, and restrictions on freedom of movement, painting a bleak picture of the country's human rights situation.

Eritrea's path towards a more democratic and inclusive political system will require significant internal and external changes. A starting point could be the implementation of the 1997 constitution and the opening of the political space to allow for the existence and participation of other political parties.

Internationally, pressure must continue to encourage Eritrea to uphold its international human rights obligations and to promote political reforms. Dialogue rather than isolation might be a more effective way forward, as engagement can provide opportunities for change and improvement.

In conclusion, Eritrea's political system is a study in centralization and autocracy, shaped by its history, regional dynamics, and the unyielding grip of a single party and leader. While the path to political reform is fraught with challenges, the need for change is increasingly evident for Eritrea to uphold human rights and achieve sustainable development.