Ethiopia’s election complication, parliament picked a possible option

The legal remedy that the parliament opted for to extend Ethiopia’s general election is “seeking constitutional interpretation”

Ethiopia _ Election
Tagesse Chaffo, speaker of House of Representatives. Photo credit : EBC

May 5, 2020

The Coronavirus has certainly brought about economic challenges to Ethiopia. But it is unfolding a more pronounced impact in the political arena.

As per the Ethiopian constitution, a general election must take place every five years before the end of the parliament’s term. This is the final year of the parliament’s term, and the general election was scheduled for August 29, 2020.

However, the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) found it difficult to work on activities leading to the election including voter registration and election worker’s training – among other activities – because of the Coronavirus situation.

With the cancelation of most of the election-related activities, the Board announced that it can not conduct the general election in August – a decision with which the parliament agreed.

The situation gave rise to what some political pundits call a “constitutional crisis.” The idea of rescheduling the election which would violate the constitutional time frame presented the government with a politically formidable challenge although many opposition parties agreed that the Coronavirus had complicated the election schedule.

A parliamentary standing committee for legal, justice and democracy affairs discussed four possible legal options to go about extending the general election without violating the constitution namely dissolving parliament, declaring a state of emergency, amending the Constitution, and seeking a constitutional interpretation.

On Tuesday, May 5, 2020, the committee presented all the options to the parliament, and it came to a point of voting to determine as to which of the options is a better one.

And parliament voted for the option to seek a constitutional interpretation for three articles in the constitutions. Twenty-five members of parliament voted against it. 

Some of the parliamentarians opposed the move on grounds that “it is intended to extend government power.” 

They also argued that the constitutional provision relating to election is unequivocal and does not need any constitutional interpretation. However, they lost the vote majority of the parliamentarians who are convinced that seeking interpretation in the parliament could provide a legal and constitutional means to extend the election.

Based on the decision from parliament, interpretation is sought in connection article 54/1, article 58/3, and article 93.

Meanwhile, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) Central Committee decided on Monday to go ahead with the election in the region and has ordered for election-related works to begin.

National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) chairwomen, Birtukan Mideksa, appeared on state television on Tuesday. She remarked that the move by TPLF administration to conduct an election in Tigray is unconstitutional.

The Federal government has not officially responded to the decision by TPLF. But it is certain that TPLF’s decision would further complicate the political situation in the country.  

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