Constitutional impasse widens Ethiopia’s political rift amid deferred elections

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Wed, 24 Jun 2020 - 09:25 GMT

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during a session with the Members of the Parliament in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, October 22, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during a session with the Members of the Parliament in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, October 22, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

CAIRO – 24 June 2020: In a country laden with ethnic violence, fair and free elections would have been the gateway to achieve certainty. However, the polls were postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19, leaving Ethiopia in a constitutional limbo.

Assumed his position as the Prime Minister of Ethiopia in April 2018, Abiy Ahmed’s two-year tenure should end in May 2020, and per constitution, general elections should be held this year for another five-year term.

According to Ahmed Amal, the head of the African Studies Unit at the Egyptian Center For Strategic Studies (ECSS), there were clear signals reflecting the Ethiopian leadership’s fear from holding elections as there were “strong prospects” the opposition will claim the lion share of the parliament’s seats, allowing them to intensively participate in the new government.

“Abiy Ahmed sought the policy of buying time to stay in power for as long as possible – without elections – in the meantime he tries to achieve the greatest number of accomplishments that may enhance the chances of his party “Prosperity” in the upcoming elections, after his popularity has sharply eroded, especially during the second year of taking office,” wrote Amal in an article on ECSS’s website.

The indefinite postponement of the elections put the African country in an unprecedented constitutional impasse as the term of the parliament, as well as the government, both end on October 5th.

However, Abiy Ahmed, a Nobel Prize Laurette, said the government will stay in charge until elections can be held safely due to the exceptional circumstances of the pandemic.

The deferring of the elections further raised political temper between the government and opposition parties, where the latter accuse the government of seeking to seize power.

Brushing aside opposition’s suggestions

There were four scenarios suggested by the parliament to escape the impasse after the end of the parliament’s and the government’s terms, including:

1- Dissolving the parliament and forming a caretaker government.

2- Extending the State of Emergency.

3- Amending the constitution.

4- Seeking constitutional “interpretations” from the upper house of the Ethiopian parliament.

Not only the majority of the parliamentarians were in favor of the fourth scenario, but also President Abiy Ahmed, brushing aside the oppositions’ request for a “political solution” by forming a caretaker government.

The fourth scenario was criticized as broad and indefinite; however, it was sent to the Federal Council for a final decision.

"People can raise the issue of a caretaker and transitional government but it's unconstitutional when put into practice," Abiy Ahmed said during a question-and-answer session with lawmakers earlier this month.

Ahmed further defended his party’s stance, saying that it is not scared of elections, and is eager to face a vote.

According to the Africa Report website, the opposition leaders warned last year that postponing the 2020 elections would “anger the public” and have “grave consequences.” The website noted that with nearly all opposition parties rejecting the indefinite postponement, the ruling party’s former founding partner, the Tigray’s People Liberation Front (TPLF), has threatened to hold its own elections in the Tigray region.

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