Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Warns Opposition Leaders, explained postponed election

While warning opposition groups that are calling for the formation of transitional government, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy has also a message for TPLF -“those who want to conduct election compel government to take actions”

Ethiopian Prime Minister
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaking about postponed election . Photo : EBC news video screenshot

By Bernabas Shiferaw
May 7, 2020

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has spoken on matters concerning the government’s decision to postpone the upcoming election in a 31 minute video released today. In the press release, the prime minister has explained the process that led to the parliament requesting for interpretation of articles of the constitution with the aim of postponing the election. He has also mentioned alternatives put forward by other stakeholders and severely criticized some of these alternatives. 

The prime minister started his speech by reminding the public of the announcement the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) made a month ago, saying it cannot hold elections in August as per the original schedule due to the threat of COVID-19 and measures taken to prevent its spread. He complimented this with examples of the upcoming elections in Poland, the 2020 Olympics and a planned expo in Dubai, all of which have been postponed due to COVID-19. 

According to him, following NEBE’s announcement, the government commissioned three teams of lawyers, unknown to each other, to come up with legal alternatives of postponing the election. Once all three teams had done their own home works independently, they were then made to sit down together and discuss their findings. The outcome of the discussion was a set of four legal alternatives that would enable the government to postpone the election beyond the end of its current term. And among these, the alternative of “requesting interpretation of some articles of the constitution from the House of Federation” was ratified by the parliament. 

The Prime Minister then went on to review options presented by opposition leaders, lawyers and other stakeholders regarding the matter, which he grouped into three broad categories. 

The first of these categories is ‘those who put forward legal alternatives other than interpretation of articles of the constitution’. The Prime Minister spoke positively about this set of individuals and organizations. He said that their holding on to legal grounds is admirable, and thanked them “for their inputs.”

He then spoke somewhat at length, about the alternative the government has adopted and defended it against criticisms that have been presented against it. He mentioned instances of constitutional interpretation in cases where there was no mention in the constitution of the matter at hand in South Africa, Columbia, and the USA. 

He criticized those who maintain that there is no legal way around the problem while “so many experienced lawyers” have maintained the contrary. He said “this only reveals their wishes,” and that their desire is to appear as saviors once the constitution has been deemed to be without a way out of this dilemma. 

Regarding the question raised about the neutrality of the Prosperity-dominated House of Federation, which has the last say in the matter and is also mandated to organize the “Council of Constitutional Inquiries,” he defended the charges by claiming the Council of Constitutional Inquiries is a neutral body and the House of Federation is “not led” by Prosperity, seemingly referring to its Speaker – Ms. Keria Abraham who is a member of the TPLF. He also emphasized the need to “respect institutions” which he said, will help us develop the culture of constitutionalism, mentioning the civil rights movement as an example. He also warned that “interpretation of the constitution should be left to lawyers.”

He also defended his government and his party against criticisms of “not having been elected through a free and fair election” and thus is not entitled to govern the country even now and will have no authority whatsoever once this term ends. His defense is (he chose not to discuss the circumstances of the last election) that his government is practically governing the country, signing international agreements, allocating and administering budget etc. and so is responsible for the country’s well being

Subsequently, he took time to speak against and harshly criticize the third category of individuals and organizations that suggest the establishment of a transitional government once the term of the current government expires.  In the first place, he said, such a solution is neither legal nor constitutional. He went on to say the motive behind such a suggestion is “lust for power.” He said there is no reason for “an elected government to share power” with political parties that have no tested acceptance among the people. He said his party has many members and supporters all over the country and a countrywide presence.  

Mentioning the experience of South Africa, he explained that transitional governments are established when the existing government is either a military government or a government on the verge of collapse. But, he said, his party is not in either of the two circumstances and is, in fact, striding with a newly found strength. He underlined that the country is going through, not a revolution, but a reform. 

In conclusion, he warned those who attempt to take hold of power through illegal means. Apparently referring to the TPLF, which has announced its decision to hold election  as per the original schedule despite the parliament’s decision, he said, “we will be forced to take action against those who attempt to hold fake elections.” He also said, (again) in an apparent reference to other opposition leaders, “We will not tolerate those who threaten to incite violence and unrest seeking power without elections.”  

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