Laying the ground-work for the 2020 elections

2 Jan 2019

In taking the oath of office in April, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told Parliament that his government will build a system “that responds to the country’s political, economic, and social conditions and which is governed by the will of the people.” Bringing about consensus among all stakeholders and realising sustainable development will be the overarching task, he said.

Since then, the government has launched a wide range of measures and the PM has held inclusive discussions with sections of society all around the country and beyond. He travelled abroad and met members of the Ethiopian Diaspora in North America and in Europe, calling upon leaders and members of exiled political parties to return home and resolve differences through dialogue. Many prisoners have been released, reform of the justice system has been instigated and a new (woman) President of the Federal Supreme Court has been appointed. The PM has re-organised his cabinet, paying special attention to complete gender parity.

On 27th November the Prime Minister met with the leaders of over 80 (eighty) political parties to discuss the reforms that will ensure that the elections in 2020 will be fully free and fair. Political parties who attended included the Oromo Liberation Front, the Oromo Federalist Congress, Patriotic Ginbot 7 and the Ogaden National Liberation Front. The newly appointed Chairperson of the National Electoral Board (NEBE)Ms. Birtukan Mideska, a former judge and opposition politician who returned from exile in the United States and is one of a raft of women recently appointed to prominent positions, was also present.

Opening the discussion, PM Abiy said achieving consensus on a common national agenda would lay the foundations for a stable political culture and encourage prosperity. Being “open to dialogue and avoiding unnecessary polarisation can help turn differences into assets”, he said. “Differences in political ideologies should not be the cause of discord, but should serve as a foundation to rebuild Ethiopia with constructive ideas.” Discord can be resolved through dialogue, he said, urging those present to refrain from provoking dispute by dwelling on the past.

From now onwards, a forum will be established where all political parties can sustain a permanent dialogue on major national issues, and propose solutions to common problems. Elections are a pillar of any democratic system and a fully independent electoral system is essential, so chief among issues discussed were the reforms required to ensure that the 2020 election outcome will reflect more closely how the people voted. The PM called on the leaders of all parties to play their part in setting up such sustainable electoral systems and laws. He reaffirmed his government’s commitment to playing a constructive role.

The PM suggested a three-phase inter-political party discussion. The first would focus on reaching consensus regarding the place and time of dialogue and identify the issues to be discussed. The second phase would cover building democratic/electoral institutions, and the third phase, to be held after the 2020 election, would focus on sustaining the new political culture. The rules of the game will include acceptance of the election outcome by all competing parties.

The PM encouraged the numerous political parties present to consider merging with parties that had similar ideologies, so the public will not be confused by the very high number of parties, and so that the government can allocate adequate budgets; in Ethiopia, competing parties receive government funds to support their election campaigns. Political parties should transcend the regions they represent, he concluded, and stand for the country as a whole.

The PM concluded that the NEBE will use the ideas raised at the meeting to reform the electoral process, helping to create trusted democratic and judicial institutions and a stable political culture. Any amendments to the country’s laws, including the constitution, he said, should be considered together and in accordance with the law.

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