Ethiopian gov’t considers constitutional amendment as COVID 19 offset election

As COVID 19 offset scheduled election, Ethiopian government is considering several options including constitutional amendment to stay in power until next election. Opposition consulted but TPLF demands the election to be conducted as scheduled

Ethiopia _ constitutional amendment
Photo : From Prosperity Party Facebook page

borkena
April 29, 2020

The current government of Ethiopia has only a few months before the next general election had it not been for COVID 19 which offset election schedule. 

The terms of the parliament at the end of September 2020. The National Election Board of Ethiopia came up with a schedule in February of this year to conduct the national election at the end of August, as stipulated in the constitution.  Now it is not happening. 

Some critics tend to see COVID 19 as a political opportunity for the government of Prime Minister Abiy in that he can now have ground to postpone it. 

He has four “legal” playing cards to do so. In what seems to be a matter of formality, his government initiated discussion with opposition parties and civic organizations in the country to deliberate on the best way to defer the election.

The four options are : 

1) Dissolving the parliament

2) Declaring a state of Emergency

3) Amending the constitution

4) Initiating Constitutional interpretation 

Based on analysis from legal experts, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed could dissolve the parliament with a permit from the parliament as per provision in Article 60/1 of the constitution. But the government will have to organize elections within six months from the date the parliament is dissolved. However, experts like Gedion Timotios, who work for the office of the attorney general, are inclined to denote it “not a better option,” on grounds that it could lead to a weak government. 

The Second option, declaring a state of emergency, has also a constitutional base in Article 91/ 1. The option could also give a basis to impose sanctions on certain rights.  Some seem to see this as a better option as it will give the government a more strong execution power.

A constitutional amendment is another possibility to avoid violating the constitution by not conducting an election within the timeframe provided in the constitution. This option requires two-third of the vote in the House of the People’s Representatives and House of the Federation.  A joint session of the two houses with two-thirds of the vote. 

Still, the other option is initiating constitutional interpretation in a way to fill the gaps in the constitution to be able to postpone the election. But experts see weakness in that the outcome of it could be unpredictable. 

The question remains which option is easier for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government. 

Most of, if not all, opposition parties seem to agree that the election has to be postponed. The Election Board of Ethiopia has already decided that it can not conduct the election as scheduled due to the coronavirus situation but some opposition parties, like Oromo Liberation Front and Oromo Federalist Congress, criticized the decision on grounds that they were not consulted about it. 

Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on the other hand remained intransigent about its position. This week, Tigray regional state demanded that the election should take place as scheduled and as required by the constitution despite the Coronavirus situation. This week, one former TPLF general who was General Director of Information Network Security Agency (INSA) for a long time argued that his organization did not struggle to liberate Ethiopia but the people of Tigray.



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