Ethiopia PM Urges Patience as Delayed Election Stokes Tensions

Ethiopia PM Urges Patience as Delayed Election Stokes Tensions


  • Lawmakers assess options with government’s term ending Oct. 10
  • Ethiopia is opening up its economy after years of isolation
Abiy Ahmed Photographer: Michael Tewelde/AFP via Getty Images

(bloomberg)—-Ethiopia’s prime minister called on opposition members to be patient amid concerns that the postponement of elections will create a constitutional crisis and stoke political tension.

“If the election is extended, it is only by months, so the opposition parties need to have patience for a few months, prepare and within the time-frame given by the electoral board, carry out a democratic election that is acceptable by all,” Abiy Ahmed said in a speech to parliament on Monday.

The Horn of Africa nation’s electoral board delayed the vote from August because of the coronavirus pandemic. Lawmakers are assessing how to deal with the legality of the government given that the mandate of the current administration expires on Oct. 10

The election is seen as a test of the popularity of Abiy, who rose to power more than two years ago following the resignation of Hailemariam Desalegn and won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for efforts to end hostilities with neighboring Eritrea. Yet, protests and ethnic violence continue and further political instability could threaten moves to open up the economy of the country with sub-Saharan Africa’s second-biggest population.

Some opposition members have called for a transitional government. The ruling Prosperity Party was opposed to postponing the election, Abiy said.

Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed denies using Covid-19 crisis to extend term

A delay means elections will not happen before MPs’ mandates expire in October — a dilemma for which the constitution does not have a clear answer

Abiy Ahmed. Picture: TASS VIA GETTY IMAGES/Anton Novoderezhkin

Addis Ababa — (businesslive)—Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has ruled out forming a transitional government once his mandate expires in early October, brushing aside accusations that he was misusing the coronavirus epidemic and delayed polls to artificially extend his rule.

Ethiopia was due to hold national elections in August that Abiy hoped would give him a mandate for wide-ranging political and economic reforms.

But the election board announced in late March that it would be impossible to organise the polls on time because of the new coronavirus pandemic.

That means elections will not happen before the legislators’ mandates expire in October — a dilemma for which the constitution does not have a clear answer.

“People can raise the issue of caretaker and transitional government but it’s unconstitutional when put into practice,” Abiy, the winner of 2019’s Nobel Peace Prize, said on Monday.

He also said his political party, the Prosperity Party, was eager to face voters. “We want the elections to be held. The Prosperity Party isn’t a party that is scared of elections,” he said.

In May, Ethiopia’s council of constitutional inquiry held public hearings on the possible next steps, and the House of Federation, the upper house of parliament, is expected to respond to its recommendations soon.

Abiy said on Monday that the election delay could last “a few months,” although the election board told the council it would need at least 10 more months to prepare.

Opposition leaders have accused Abiy of seizing on the coronavirus pandemic to artificially prolong his mandate.

On Monday afternoon, state-run media reported that upper house speaker Keria Ibrahim had resigned from her position, saying she was “not willing to work with a group that violates the constitution and exercises dictatorship”.

Keria is a member of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which dominated the ruling coalition before Abiy came to power in 2018 but has since been sidelined, and officially parted ways with him in 2019.

Other opposition politicians have demanded a more prominent role in resolving the impasse, arguing that consulting parliament is insufficient because most lawmakers support the ruling party.

Abiy, for his part, has accused opposition politicians of trying to exploit uncertainty created by the pandemic to claim power for themselves.