Election of New Premier Represents Major Milestone for Ethiopia’s Democracy

9 Apr 2018

In recent weeks, an extraordinary set of meetings, involving members of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), have been taking place in Addis Ababa. The meetings, of both the Executive Committee and the Council of the Front, have spent the last few weeks deliberating on the current state of affairs in the country while appraising the progress of the government’s reform agenda.

In light of the announcement of the resignation of former Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn earlier this year, the election of a new chairperson to lead the Front was part of the agenda for the meeting of the EPRDF’s Council in the last week of March. Following the official acceptance of Mr Dessalegn’s resignation, the election of the new Chairman was conducted in a fair, participatory, democratic and transparent manner in line with the Front’s longstanding rules and procedures. As an illustration of the growing maturity of Ethiopia’s nascent democratic culture, candidates for the position were transparently nominated and rigorously appraised before voting was conducted by secret ballot. The Council, comprised of members from the four constituent parties of the Front, duly elected Dr Abiy Ahmed as the third Chairperson in the Front’s history.

Following this election, the Front, in accordance with the Constitution, submitted Dr Abiy Ahmed’s candidacy for the post of Prime Minister to the House of Peoples Representatives (HoPR), which subsequently endorsed his appointment as the new Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic. This appointment, which represents a peaceful and constitutional transfer of power from one head of government to another, is a watershed moment in the history of Ethiopia. In this respect, the voluntary resignation of the former Prime Minister to enable the reform process cannot be underestimated! The actions of Mr Hailemariam Dessalegn are as unprecedented as they are praiseworthy – ushering in a new era in the country’s politics.

Many regard the appointment of Dr Abiy Ahmed as an “aha!” moment – a golden opportunity for the ruling Front to find calibrated responses to the complex challenges facing the nation. By confronting these challenges with the fresh energy, perspective and approach offered in the election of a new leader, the Government can and will accelerate the pace of the comprehensive reforms being demanded by the public.

As laid out in his inaugural speech, the new premier and his government will prioritise: the implementation of democratic reforms aimed at widening the political space for opposition parties and civil society; the encouragement of greater political participation among young people and the empowerment of women; the realisation of good governance and social justice across society; the offering of greater economic opportunities to the youth, ensuring its inclusivity in the country’s development; the curbing of maladministration and corrupt practices at all levels; the improvement of the standard and quality of education – the key to any country’s prosperity; the promotion of deeper engagement and participation by Ethiopians abroad in the country’s development; and the establishment of an environment conducive to the growth of more independent and free media.

On the country’s foreign relations, the Prime Minister committed his government to building on the constructive relations Ethiopia enjoys with all neighbouring countries – thereby upholding the country’s longstanding strategy of working towards collective goals and mutual benefits in the spirit of equality and partnership. He went on to affirm Ethiopia’s obligations to: the maintenance of peace and security and the acceleration of development in the Horn of Africa; the strengthening of the country’s role at the African Union and as a voice for the continent at the United Nations and other international organisations and fora. The Premier, finally, expressed the readiness of the Ethiopian Government to play its part in finding a peaceful and constructive resolution to the dispute with the State of Eritrea.

With the peaceful transfer of power, Ethiopia has crossed yet another important threshold in its journey as a nascent constitutional democracy. The optimism and hope that has greeted the inauguration of the new Prime Minister, far from being misplaced or premature, is befitting the beginning of a new era in the country’s democratic developmental story. Indeed, this is that rare occasion where the word ‘milestone’ truly fits the bill.

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