Ethiopia: Abiy Ahmed and the constitutional puzzle

Ethiopian senators on Wednesday (June 10th) approved plans to keep Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in power beyond the end of his term in October following the postponement of the elections scheduled for August due to the coronavirus. This decision by the upper house of Parliament did not fail to anger the leaders of the opposition, who accused the Prime Minister of using the epidemic to stay in office. Elected officials have not specified when elections should be held.

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Postponed elections due to Covid-19

“The chamber of the federation (equivalent to the Senate) approved the decision to extend the term of all assemblies until global health institutions consider the risk of the coronavirus to be non-existent,” reported the Ethiopian news agency. . Their vote endorsed a recommendation from the Ethiopian Council of Constitutional Affairs which called for these “elections to be held 9 to 12 months after the coronavirus was no longer considered a public health issue”.

Appointed Prime Minister in 2018 and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, Abiy Ahmed hopes to be reinforced by the ballot boxes to carry out new political and economic reforms. However, in March, the Ethiopian electoral commission announced that the coronavirus epidemic made it impossible to organize the poll in time. Consequently, the elections will not be able to be held before the end of the mandate of the deputies, which expires at the beginning of October, leading to a delicate situation for which the Constitution does not offer a clear procedure to follow.

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Opposition wants to be heard

The Ethiopian Constitutional Affairs Council held public hearings last month which critics say did not give enough voice to the opposition. Some of its leaders called for training until the elections for a transitional government, but Abiy Ahmed rejected this option during a question and answer session with parliamentarians.

Dawud Ibsa, president of the Oromo Liberation Front (opposition), told AFP that the vote in the upper house had “no constitutional basis” and that his party would reflect on the follow-up to the announcement.

If the main opposition parties reject the recommendations of the Ethiopian Constitutional Council, “demonstrations or boycotts could become a reality, thus reducing the chances of a successful and efficient election in 2021,” said William Davison, of International Crisis Group. “It would mean more political instability and undermine the democratic transition,” he said.

Ethiopia announced its first Covid-19 case in mid-March and currently has 2,506 cases and 35 deaths. However, more than half of these cases have been recorded in the past 10 days, and the health ministry said last week that the cases “are increasing rapidly due to transmission within communities.”

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