PM Abiy Ethiopia On The Road To Democracy But Major Obstacles Still Stand In The Way

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaking during a press conference on general elections in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

It has been two years since there was a surprise change in the leadership of the country. On introducing himself with a historic speech to the nation, the new Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed discoursed democracy as the only future for the country with more than 110 million people. Even though his administration inherited a lot of extraordinary set of problems, his initial reforms were breathtaking, so much that imagining democracy became justifiable. Apart from the challenges of instituting democracy in an authoritarian state, PM Abiy Ahmed had to deal with ethnic violence, conflicts as well massive internal displacement of citizens. Two years later, through resettlement programs that proved to be successful; the government seem to have controlled the problem of internally displaced people. There has also been tangible progress in ensuring peace and stability as news of violence only happens in regions where the Oromo Liberation Army operates. Looking beyond domestic politics, the volatile Horn of Africa also posed a major threat to the prime minister’s leadership but he handled it properly that Eritrea, Ethiopia’s formal arch-rival is no longer a regional adversary. The Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed was key in Sudanese transition from chaos to some political commitment. Deserving recognition also is the fact that he changed the loud silence between Somaliland and Somalia into potentially history-making meetings.

Furthermore, looking back in time, PM Abiy Ahmed’s major achievement could be viewed from the standpoint of dismantling the 28-year-old Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front which lead to the birth of a nationally unified political organization, The Prosperity Party.

This lead to the reinvigoration of opposition parties in particular, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front which is a regional political organization that had major dominance over the old revolutionary front. Together with the PM Prosperity Party, they became major political foe.

This poses a menace to Ethiopia’s path to reform. As a result, Ethiopia’s road to democracy and national elections, which were due to be held in August, is now facing two challenges: a global pandemic, and deteriorating relations between the Tigray regional state and the Prosperity Party, which is in charge of the federal government, and the remaining eight regions and two city administrations.

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front Logo

More so, Prime Minister, Abiy cited the pandemic as a reason to postpone the national elections. The current administration’s five-year tenure was set to expire come September 30, 2020. Debates on the legitimacy of the government after that date have dominated national discussions. There were a number of options proposed by the government: One was to dissolve parliament and declare a state of emergency. The second one was to request a special constitutional interpretation of the challenge and the third one, was to extend the tenure of current incumbents. The government did well in consulting the opposition and the issues were discussed in parliament. The decision that was finally taken was to ask for a judicial review process to provide a constitutional interpretation. This was done through the Council of Constitutional Inquiry, which then submits its recommendations to the House of the Federation for discussions and a decision. The House of the Federation is the upper house of Ethiopia’s bicameral legislative branch. Its legislative authority is limited to powers on budgetary allocations, powers to interpret the constitution, and to safeguard the federal constitutional framework. Based on House’s decision, the chamber postponed the national election. The decision was not received well by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. The regional parliament in Tigray has since defied the federal government’s decision, and announced it will hold its own elections. This decision comes with a lot of implications. By holding an election without the supervision of the National Electoral Board, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front is undermining Ethiopia’s federal constitutional system. The decision poses a threat to Ethiopia’s promising democracy. It has equally ignited an unprecedented level of tension between the Tigray region and the federal government. If this situation deteriorates further, the country’s fledgling democracy could regress.

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