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Ethiopia in Suspense as Ruling Party Deliberates

Ethiopian-PM-ContendersBy Guest Writer

March 13, 2018 – The EPRDF Executive Committee is currently in meeting evaluating party performance of the last six months. Among many issues expected to be discussed are the security situation inside the country and each member organization’s performance within its territory. However, the top issue in the minds of EPRDF leadership and the public at large is undoubtedly who will be the next prime minister of Ethiopia.

The EPRDF is composed of four regional parties, namely, the Amhara Nations Democratic Movement (ANDM), Southern Ethiopia People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM), Oromo Peoples Democratic Organization (OPDO), and Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

A few years ago, any succession issue would have been worked out months in advance with little info going to the public. This time around, things are different. The EPRDF is showing divisions within its ranks, as shown by significant dissensions in dealing with protests and in approving the second state of emergency declared recently. The epicenter of this dissention appears to be within the OPDO.

Emboldened by public unrest within its territory, the OPRDO is driving hard to answer decade’s long grievances of powerlessness to claim the top position of the country – the Premiership of Ethiopia. The question that many people are asking currently is, will it finally get that prized position?

In normal circumstances, electing one of OPDO members Prime Minister of Ethiopia wouldn’t have been a big issue. After all, the OPDO represents the largest ethnic population in Ethiopia, and this population never held that position to date. Looking by this metric, it seems entirely logical that the leader of the OPDO, Dr. Abiy Ahmed (or another OPDO member of choice) become the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, as many media outlets have speculated. However, judging by recent developments, the present situation is not a normal circumstance entirely.

Contrary to the business as usual, the OPDO is acting more and more as an opposition party, albeit within the EPRDF. And the signs pointing to a resurgent OPDO have been there for a few years now. The current break in parliamentary vote is just one of many signs in recent years. Its leader, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, did not even attend the crucial meeting in parliament. To close observers, it is no secret that the organization has been driving for more control within its borders, some symbolic, some substantive. It has also repeatedly challenged the way the capital city, Addis Ababa, is defined and governed openly.

Some inside the EPRDF leadership have long suspected that that the unrest that started against land allocation around the capital and continued to this day would not have been possible without the tacit approval from the OPDO leadership itself.

It is this background that put in doubt whether an OPDO member will be elected Prime Minister of Ethiopia. Since its foundation, the EPRDF has traditionally given high premiums to those who play by its rules, whatever those rules are. That includes enforcing party discipline and decisions regardless of whether one agrees with them or not. In this sense, it is clear that much of the OPDO leadership has defied this rule for a few years now. This may be too much for some EPRDF leaders to swallow and hence a strong reason to look elsewhere to fill the open position for Prime Minister of Ethiopia.

Should an OPDO member gets elected Prime Minister of Ethiopia against this backdrop, especially someone who is believed to have defied party rules, it will be revolutionary. It will also point to a far weaker EPRDF than many of us believe to be the case.

The question is, if not the OPDO, who will claim the top position?

One thing is certain. The new Prime Minister of Ethiopia will come from one of the four sister organizations forming the EPRDF. If the OPDO does not get the top position, it will be one of the remaining three parties that will claim the post. However, given TPLF’s reluctance to assume the position itself, it will essentially boil down to other two remaining parties: the ANDM and the SEPDM.

At first glance, of the two parties, the ANDM appears to have the clearest shot at the top position. Under the outgoing Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, the SEDPM has held the position for the last six years or so. Although the SEPDM can lay claim on basis of completing the rest of his term, continuity and stability may require that the EPRDF take a decisive step to elect a longer-term leader. The ANDM never held that position in the era of the EPRDF, and its leader, Demeke Mekonnen, has been Deputy Prime Minister for some time now. So elevating him to Prime Minister of Ethiopia appears to be a less drastic step and entirely logical.

However, when it comes to a contest between the ANDM and the SEPDM, then the vote of the OPDO and TPLF becomes crucial. Due to history and tactical considerations, this is where things can become more complicated.

The Oromos have long viewed the Amharas with suspicion, with the Abyssinian conquest of their land centuries ago still fresh in their minds. More importantly, to the current leaders of the OPDO, electing an Amhara Prime Minister at this point may mean a lost opportunity to claim the top spot for years to come. Given that most EPRDF leaders do not last that long in one position, it means these leaders may never see another opportunity to be Prime Minister again. So, to the current OPDO leaders, electing a stop-gap Prime Minister may make every sense. And that means voting for the SEPDM leader Shiferaw Shigute to be Prime Minister of Ethiopia on the understanding that it is a short-term appointment, just two years.

Shiferaw Shigute may also be acceptable to the TPLF, but for different reasons. For one thing he represents an organization that has played by EPRDF rules better than the OPDO. The SEPDM has governed its territory with relative peace. It has also acted as calming influence between at times warring factions within the EPRDF. It has no border conflict with any other regions to speak of. And the appointment is short-term which would definitely give the EPRDF a breathing space to put its house in order.

Should the succession issue become too contentious, however, the situation may also call for other, more drastic solutions, including electing a consensus candidate other than the top leaders of the four member organizations of the EPRDF, which is entirely possible.

Whatever the decision, let’s hope that the EPRDF does not fail itself and the country more than it already has, as any misstep at this point could cost the nation dearly for years to come.


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