Ethiopia from Escalation to Head-on Clash

Radio Erena: 08 September 2020

The Ethiopian House of Federation recent statement nullifying the forthcoming election in Tigray will accelerate the escalation and will inevitably lead to head-on clash between the federal government and the regional government in Tigray. The House of Federation’s (HoF) statement came after an emergency meeting on September 5, a meeting which the government of Tigray declined to participate in as it moved to fortify its position regarding the election taking place this week, despite the firm federal government’s opposition. The meeting confirmed that the intended Tigrayan election is unconstitutional and therefore it is null and void. In a prompt reaction, Getachew Reda, the spokesperson of Tigray regional government said that the election will be conducted as planned despite the central government pressure.

The House of Federation relied on article 62 (9) of the Constitution which allows the intervention of the federal government in case a State endangered the constitution and federation. To avoid a scenario of a likely conflict, the House of Federation prolonged the mandate of the regional governments due the health risks associated with Covid-19 pandemic in 24 June. Tigray Regional government, led mainly by Tigray Liberation Front (TPLF), after deep deliberations decided that the health risks of the pandemic will not obstruct the regional election and the prime minister is deviously using the health situation as pretext to delay the national elections to cling to power indefinitely. In a hardheaded act, the Tigray regional government requested from the National Electoral Board, the commission in charge of elections in the country, to supervise the forthcoming election in Tigray. NEB resolutely responded that it will not supervise any election due to the health situation and it will strongly abide by the decision of House of Federation suspending any election due to the health situation. The determined NEB answer has not deterred the Northern Region’s government from carrying out its plans. Proving that the NEB services are dispensable, the Tigray regional government established its own electoral commission from local legal experts.

The Prime Minister’s first reaction to the determination on carrying the election in Tigray was lenient as he declared in July that he will not have a problem with an election which would bring the incumbent government to power for a new term as long as this does not violate the extension of mandate previously decreed by the House of Federation.
As time went by and the preparations for election began to threaten the prime minister’s plans, he hardened his stance and legally opted for a federal intervention through the House of Federation. This is an earlier notch of the conflict, as the federal government intends to delegitimize the election by legal and economic sanctions, which may include regional budget suspension, if this financial sanction measure is taken by the prime minister, the conflict will escalate to upper levels. Whatever course the federal government may take, the election will take place as Muluwork Gebrekidan, the head of the regional electoral commission has confirmed, he further reiterated that 5 political parties and 11 independent candidates will participate in the election, although Arena Tigray Party and Tigray Democratic Party will not participate. The decline of these two parties is not related to the election’s organization  per se; rather because both parties reiterated that the election will not be fair and free, as the journalist Neamin Ashenafi quoted sources from the abstaining parties.

In the bone-breaking conflict between Tigray regional government and the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, both parties hasten to delegitimize each other. A successful conduct of election in Tigray, as we have argued earlier, will weaken the prime minister’s claims of not holding the national election due to the strict observance of health instructions related to Covid-19. The yellow electoral card from Tigray warns the prime minister that his excuses of delaying national elections because of the Covid-19 are not only unfounded but they are ultimately unacceptable. Abiy Ahmed may see Tigray regional government leaders out there for trouble; but their message is crystal clear “we have successfully conducted our election; so why don’t you stop the feet dragging and have the elections done timely and properly.

By Fathi Osman