No delay in 2020 Ethiopia 2020 vote – PM
Written by Reuters,
(defenceweb)—Ethiopia’s prime minister said the election due for 2020 would be free and should not be delayed by sweeping reforms to the African nation’s politics, economy and diplomacy.
Abiy Ahmed, who took office in April, pledged to open up the state-dominated economy and took steps to end decades of hostility with neighbouring Eritrea — moves that could reshape the country and the broader Horn of Africa region.
He said on Saturday at his first news conference the World Bank would provide $1 billion in budget support in the next few months, explaining “this is due to reforms in the country.”
Since winning office, Abiy loosened the grip of a state that ruled with an iron fist. He ordered the release of political prisoners and decried abuses by security forces as state terrorism.
“My dream and ambition is for democratic elections to be held,” the 42-year-old prime minister said.
“Otherwise, what legitimacy can any official have without the mandate earned through elections?”
Abiy said elections, due in 2020, should not be delayed until the reforms are completed.
He said the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition’s focus next year would be on “preparations for free elections to be held.”
Abiy promised to give more room to opponents in a nation of 100 million where no opposition lawmakers sit in parliament.
He lifted a state of emergency put in place after his predecessor resigned in February following three years of protests in which hundreds were killed by security forces.
The World Bank and other donors suspended budgetary help following a disputed vote in 2005 accompanied by violence that killed 200.
The ruling coalition, in power since ousting dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991, has long been accused by the opposition of crushing dissent, a charge it denies, though Abiy spoke frankly since taking office about past abuses.
Some political dissidents voiced scepticism about change as long as Abiy’s EPRDF remains in power.
Protests that led to the resignation of his predecessor were partly driven by Ethiopia’s disillusioned youth, suffering high levels of unemployment. Although one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies, Ethiopia’s export sector – mainly garment manufacturing and farming – struggled, meaning the economy is not generating enough dollars to pay for imports.
The dollar shortages have been exacerbated by government’s massive investment in infrastructure over the last decade.
The government last month called on Ethiopians to bring hard currency to banks to ease the shortage, a move which closed the once yawning gap between the official and black market exchange rates for the birr currency.
On Saturday, Abiy said “economic sabotage” had taken place adding “large groups” were still hoarding foreign exchange, without giving details.
Though government pledged to partially privatise several key state-owned companies, including the telecoms monopoly, the form liberalisation will take and the speed with which it will be carried out have not been announced.
Ethiopia’s new PM vows to continue reforms ‘at any cost’
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Ethiopia’s prime minister in his first press conference since taking power vowed Saturday to continue with dramatic reforms “at any cost” and said the longtime ruling coalition soon will prepare for a “free and fair election” in 2020.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed also said the World Bank “soon” plans to provide $1 billion in direct budgetary assistance, a sign of confidence after years of unrest in Africa’s second most populous nation. Such assistance stopped after the disputed 2005 elections.
“My dream is that doubts about the ballot box will disappear,” Abiy said, saying the vote won’t be delayed and promising a peaceful transfer of power if he loses.
The 42-year-old Abiy took office in April and shocked the country with a wave of reforms including restoring diplomatic ties with neighboring Eritrea after two decades, pledging to open up state-owned companies to outside investment and releasing thousands of prisoners.
The reforms have been praised by the international community and attracted investors interested in one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies.
Recent ethnic unrest in various parts of Ethiopia, however, has dampened the initial jubilation and posed a major challenge to the new leader.
“There are groups that are working in unison to cause chaos in different parts of the country,” Abiy told reporters. “They are triggering peoples’ emotions to this end.”
Some 2.8 million people have been displaced by the unrest, according to the United Nations. “But this didn’t happen due to the reforms,” the prime minister said.
He said the unrest in the eastern Somali region has calmed but measures will be taken against former officials, including the region’s former President Abdi Mohammed Omar, who is suspected of orchestrating the chaos earlier this month that led to the destruction of government offices, looting of businesses and burning of churches.
Asked about internet cuts in the region following the unrest, an unpopular tactic widely used by the previous government, Abiy appealed for understanding and said it might have saved lives.
“But curbing access to information and cutting the internet is not the way forward,” he added, and urged youth to use it responsibly.
The prime minister also in recent months has welcomed a number of once-exiled opposition figures and groups back to Ethiopia and invited them to join in the political conversation.
But on Saturday he drew the line at former military dictator Col. Mengistu Hailemariam, who overthrew the last Ethiopian emperor, Haileselassie, in 1974 and eventually was sentenced to life for spearheading a “Red Terror” that killed tens of thousands of people. He fled the country in 1991 as rebels, who now make up the ruling coalition, approached the capital.
Some Ethiopians have called on Abiy to offer Mengistu amnesty after a rare photo of him in exile in Zimbabwe went viral early this month.
“Ethiopia’s constitution clearly stipulates the ‘Red Terror’ crimes cannot be covered under an amnesty law,” Abiy said. “So Col. Mengistu will not … return home. But if the law in the future allows, that may change.” — (AP)