In a recorded speech posted on Facebook, Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed warned that uncertainty arising out of the country’s decision to postpone August elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic was being exploited by opposition political parties to seize power. The elections would have been as much a referendum on Ahmed’s reform efforts as they were a necessity given that the mandate for sitting legislators in Ethiopia’s parliament is set to expire on October 10.
There is no constitutional provision that specifically addresses this scenario, prompting the lower house of parliament to vote for the upper house, known as the House of the Federation, to come up with a constitutional interpretation that paves the way forward. This, however, has not been welcomed by all of the opposition parties, who rightly point out that Abiy’s Prosperity Party dominates in both houses.
New Dynamics, Old Tensions
The principal opposition group, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which opposed the original merger that created the Prosperity Party, has even threatened to go ahead and hold its own elections regardless of the national postponement. The Nobel Peace Prize–winning prime minister already faced a daunting challenge of organizing fair elections in a country that, until December 2019, was ruled by an ethnically based political federation.
With the advent of the Prosperity Party’s creation came the dissolution of the country’s old political model, and with it the formation of new political movements and parties, which have dredged up old ethnic and religious tensions. These tensions, already playing out with regards to the constitutional crisis, threaten to undermine the tentative peace that has benefited Ethiopia since Ahmed’s ascent to power.