The Parliamentconcluded its tenureon Monday, July 5, 2021 after extending its term by a year on account of the postponed national elections hampered by the Coronavirus pandemic. The parliament’s past six years were not ordinary as the country went through a roller-coaster ride within the specified time.
The parliamentary tenure saw fierce opposition against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) led Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) government in all corners of the country. The struggle within the ruling coalition then gave birth to the current crop of political leaders who received incredible amounts of popular approval at the beginning. A few months later, the situation started to change little by little as violent ethnic based clashes sprung up all over the country. In a more recent tone, the parliament became vocal about the government’s inability to put such attacks against civilians under control and the increasing threat some armed groups have been posing against Ethiopians.
Positive results have been overshadowed by violent conflicts, war, un-abating inflation and the like.In addition to ethnic violence, the Coronavirus pandemic slowed the economy. The pandemic ultimately led to the postponement of national elections that were meant to coincide with the expiration of the parliamentary term. Deliberations to extend the legitimacy of the government wound down to a constitutional interpretation.
The decision that followed unleashed a chain of events, which at the time and in hindsight, looked to be gearing towards an armed conflict. The decisions taken by this Parliament have changed the country’s political, economic and social landscape beyond its tenure.
Altercations between the federal government and the Tigray regional state led by the disgruntled TPLF leadership saw the latter conduct regional elections in defiance. The exchange of accusations finally went to an all-out war in the beginning of November, 2020. Subsequently, national elections had to be postponed indefinitely in Tigray.
In addition to Tigray region, the sixth national elections have also been postponed to the beginning of September in Somali and Harari regional states and some parts of Benishangul-Gumuz region because of security threats and logistical problems. The elections that took place in the rest of the regions also lacked the flare of electoral campaigns as prominent opposition political leaders have been imprisoned and major opposition political parties boycotted the elections.
The fact that the government finds itself embroiled in a war with its own region, security threats are rampant throughout the country and the cost of living is soaring along with the unrelenting pressure from the international community made life for the government and the parliament challenging.
Nevertheless, the incumbent has tightened its grip on power winning 97.44 percent of the 44o parliamentary seats up for grabs in the first phase of the national elections and 100 percent of the regional council seats.
The Reporter has tried to take a look at some of the steps and decisions taken in the six years of the parliament’s stay in power.
The fifth general elections held in 2015, which brought forth representatives of the just ended parliamentary term, were criticized for lack of participation and a restrictive political playing field. That election saw the then incumbent, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), win 100 percent of the seats in parliament, asserting complete control over all aspects of the country.
On Oct 5, 2015 a joint session of the Houses (the House of Peoples’ Representatives and House of Federation) kicked off the fifth parliamentary term. On the next day, the HPR voted to keep Hailemariam Dessalegn as the Prime Minister and leader of the party, a position he held following the death of his predecessor Meles Zenawi three years before. This time, for Hailemariam, it would mean a five-year tenure in the hot seat, having led the country from 2012 to 2015.
In his acceptance speech, Hailemariam made a promise that even though his party won the entire seats available, his government would give opportunities to opposition parties to be heard in parliament whenever they have an agenda they want to present on the country’s political, economic and social matters.
On the same occasion, both Hailemariam and the then President of Ethiopia, Mulatu Teshome (PhD) hinted at bringing changes to the election law and other issues such as the electoral process, to welcome more political parties to sustain a multiparty political system.
However, the parliament’s term has come to an end without any tangible results on its promises of giving opportunities to opposition parties. The amendment of the electoral law has, however, been carried out with some not welcoming it. It was generally received as a positive step though.
Change of Guard
In the first year of its term, Hailemariam had to fill his Cabinet to form the Council of Ministers (CoM). Back then, the current PM Abiy Ahmed (PhD), was an anonymous MP despite holding senior government posts. However, Abiy quickly climbed the political ladder with Hailemariam picking him as the new candidate to fill his cabinet as the Science and Technology Minister.
However, Abiy did not hold that position for long. Amidst a political crisis at that time, especially in Oromia region, where protests and civil unrest reached a tipping point, Abiy was drafted to take-up the deputy chairmanship role of the then OPDO to address the unrest in the region, and served as the Vice Chief administrator of Oromia regional state.
His rise and transformation, however, did not stop there with sweeping protests and popular uprising bringing him the Premiership.
With wind under his sails, Abiy quickly brought about sweeping changes ranging from peace deals with Eritrea to opening up the economy and political landscape and retire former leaders of the Party.
The birth of an institution
A bill to replace the Ministry of Justice with the Office of the Attorney General was presented before the House in 2016, proposed after the government admitted to allegations of human rights violation of suspects of crime, which was later confirmed by Abiy.
Abiy pledged that his administration would work to rectify the wrongs. One was by empowering the prosecutorial office to supervise in criminal investigations. The Office would be charged with the duty of following up criminal investigations and ensuring its legality, which include ensuring the protection of rights of suspects.
The Office of the AG, in addition, has been granted more powers in cases of corruption crimes investigation and prosecution. Under the new law, all the rights and duties given to the Federal Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission related to investigation and prosecution have been transferred to the AG per the proclamation.
This new law, however, was met by sharp criticism by some and lauded by others. The move was seen as improving the country’s justice system by some, while others saw it as weakening the efforts of the Commission to fight corruption.
Nevertheless, this proclamation was marked as one of the important legislative actions taken by the parliament.
Resignations and reshuffles
In a five-year span, which later went into its sixth year, the upper and lower Houses of the Parliament saw multiple changes to its leadership. In 2017, the then House Speaker, Abdabula Gemeda submitted his resignation letter from a position he held since 2010, resigning in his third year of a five year tenure.
Abiy appointed Muferiat Kamil, who in 2008 became the Minister of Women’s Affairs at the age of 32, becoming the youngest appointee of the late Meles Zenawi, to assume Abadula’s role, making her the first woman speaker of the House.
She was then replaced by Tagesse Chaffo after six months in Office as part of a ministerial reshuffle to head the newly formed Ministry of Peace. She was among a slew of female appointees nominated to his cabinet, keeping his promise of gender parity in his Council.
Within what looked to be a constant reshuffle, only the deputy house speaker, Shitaye Minale was able to maintain her role for a third consecutive term.
Similarly, the HoF also had its fair share of changes to its leadership. In 2018, the then House Speaker, Yalew Abate resigned two years before his five year tenure ended. His resignation was said to be a part of the government’s new reform efforts introduced by the new administration.
Following the appointment of Muferiat, the HoF approved Keria Ibrahim as its Speaker, becoming the second woman to hold the position.
However, after serving for about two years, Keria resigned citing unconstitutional efforts to resolve the election impasse. “I cannot oversee a process as Speaker of the Federation, a decision that endangers the Constitution,”she said in a televised statement on Tigrai TV. She was a member of the TPLF, the ruling party of Tigray regional state, which went against the government’s decision to postpone elections and held regional elections in defiance. Hence, the House opted to appoint Adem Farah, from Somali region, as its Speaker.
First of Many
Although it has been scrutinized and criticized, the Parliament has overseen the confirmation of various ‘first of its kind’ appointments.
For instance, it is the first time that the nation witnessed a peaceful transition of power when Hailemariam resigned from Office, paving the way for Abiy to come into power. Abiy, in trying to keep-up with the times, nominated a slew of female candidates to fill top leadership positions in the country, keeping his promise of gender parity. To mention a few, Sahle-work Zewde was sworn in as the first female President, while Meaza Ashenafi and Birtukan Medeksa were appointed as the first women to lead the Federal Supreme Court and the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE), respectively.
Taking the appointments further, Abiy appointed Aisha Mohmmed Mussa to lead the Ministry of Defense, becoming the first female to do so. His appointments, among others, include Muferiat Kamil as Minister of Peace, Lia Tadesse as Minister of Health, Ergoge Tesfaye, as Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, AdanechAbiebie, as Deputy Mayor of Addis Ababa City Administration, Dagmawit Moges, as Minister of Transport, Filsan Abdulahi as Minister of Women, Children and Youth, Hirut Kassaw as Minister of Culture and Tourism, and Billene Seyoum, as Press Secretary to the PMO.
Abiy, in a bid to change the narrative attached to the ruling party, proposed to dissolve the EPRDF and create a new party, Prosperity Party (PP), which the TPLF continuously refused to join.
The Parliament approved the move with Abiy backed by major regional parties besides the TPLF, which has been at the forefront of Ethiopian politics for the best part of 30 years. It was in its fifth year when most members of the TPLF, who had seats in the parliament, abandoned their seats expressing their disagreement with the incumbent.
Consequently, with the term limit of the incumbent fast approaching, the question of holding national elections became an issue, and the House decided to postpone it citing the pandemic, security concerns and logistic difficulties.
This prompted the TPLF to hold regional and parliamentary elections in its region, Tigray. This election was opposed by the Federal government and the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) and disputes later turned into a full-fledged war.
In addition, the House designated the TPLF and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF-Shene) as terrorist organizations.
Abiy, who promised to open the political landscape of the country, invited back those in exile, with the Parliament removing people and parties alike from the terrorism list. This paved the way for appointments from a different side of the aisle.
For instance, Burtkan Mideksa, a former opposition leader who had been in prison twice under terrorism and treason charges, was appointed to lead the electoral board. Similarly, Daniel Bekele, who was in exile for criticizing the former administration, was appointed as Commissioner of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.
The House also de-listed three former armed groups from the terrorism list, which had been designated as terrorists by the preceding parliamentary term.
Chartered cities led by deputies
Despite constitutional requirements to hold periodic elections in the two federally administered charter cities, Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa, the parliament postponed it twice. This postponement forced the House to pass a controversial bill, which would allow the two cities to be administered by duty mayors, who were not elected by their respective councils.
Both Charters of Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa stipulate that both the mayor and deputy mayors should only be elected from members of the City Councils. However, in June 2018, the Houses amended both charters enabling non-elected members of the city councils to be appointed for the deputy mayor’s role.
Takele Uma (Eng.) became the first none elected deputy mayor of Addis Ababa, and then was replaced by Adanech Abiebie.
The birth of a new Regional State
Under its tenure, the parliament oversaw a referendum on Sidama, to be the tenth autonomous regional state, detaching from the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR) in favor of an increased autonomy.
The referendum, which saw 98 percent of the vote go in favor of becoming a regional state, has given Sidama 20 seats in the upcoming sixth parliamentary term, after its autonomy was recognized by the federal government.
However, during the fifth parliamentary tenure, the HoF passed a resolution for the NEBE to hold a referendum for other zones in the SNNPR regional state, which seek autonomy. The referendum will be held with regard to the formation of a new region called South western Ethiopia region, formed by four zones.
According to the NEBE’s timetable, the referendum will take place this year in early September.
Ending a stalemate
A new leadership at the helm brought about a new dimension to change. The parliament changed course on a 20-year policy on Eritrea, with Abiy strengthening ties and ultimately ending a 20-year stalemate.
Furthermore, the House delisted Eritrea from the terrorism list and opened borders for a while, with Abiy visiting Asmara and Isayas Afeworki visiting Ethiopia in a new found affection for one another.
Moments of Silence become frequent
The House, coming together for sessions, has often held moments of silence for victims of ethnic violence, more than anytime. Sporadic and more often deadly communal violence, which has resulted in thousands of internally displaced people, became a familiar occurrence than an aberration.
Due to repeated violence, this parliamentary term also set records for declaring a State of Emergency decree, enforced both at a national and regional level.
Decades old laws amended, Privatization takes afoot
The House, in its remaining years after Abiy came into power, amended laws accompanied by various resolutions and regulations.
The most significant legislations that have been debated and endorsed include the Commercial Code and Criminal Procedure Code, which were amended after more than six decades.
In addition, bills deemed to be instrumental in helping move the country forward in line with global trends, technology and diplomatic relationship, have been legislated. For instance, the telecommunications law, which liberalizes the sector, and banking and insurance bills have been legislated to ease the existing laws, putting in motion the reforms geared towards opening-up the economy.
In relation to politics and social sectors, the electoral law, Civil Society law, Anti-terrorism laws as well as the Media law are among some amended and revoked by MPs during their term.
However, there were a few legislative actions that contributed to conflicts and instability in the country. Particularly, two laws, endorsed on the same date, the Boundary Commission and Reconciliation Commission, were met with disdain. In their draft stage, MPs slammed both bills immediately. But, after a few weeks of revision and scrutiny made by theLaw, Justice and Democracy Standing Committee of the House, they were endorsed with a majority vote while members of the TPLF voted against them and said it could not be enforced in the region.
Many believed that these laws were instituted to resolve the growing disputes and claims of land among different regional boundaries.