In the face of mounting challenges COVID-19 has caused which includes forcing the nation to postpone its upcoming national elections, uncertainty has taken center stage among the public as the federal government and Tigray’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), are contradicting one another.
The stalemate started when the TPLF said on Monday that it would proceed with elections in Tigray despite the nationwide postponement of voting.
“We are making preparations including the holding of a regional election in order to safeguard the rights of our people from chaos,” a TPLF statement said. It did not mention a date for the vote.
In response to TPLF’s statement, the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) said no request for a vote was submitted by the TPLF and no organization other than the NEBE had a mandate to conduct any type of election.
Following that, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) on Thursday said the government would take measures against activities violating constitutional laws so as to protect the safety and security of the public.
With the power on deciding election dates and procedures vested in it by the constitution, the government’s legislative body, the House of People’s Representatives (HPR) on Tuesday, approved in favor of requesting a constitutional interpretation for the postponement of the election, while TPLF decided it would hold its regional election irrespective of the Federal government’s decision.
Held inside the conference room at the Office of the Prime Minister, lawmakers heard the standing committee’s report before endorsing the constitutional interpretation resolution, among the four options presented to the House last week through the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE).
Despite opposition from MP’s representing TPLF, the House voted with a majority and 25 objections.
It can be recalled that the COVID-19 outbreak had forced Ethiopia to postpone the highly-anticipated elections scheduled to be held on August 29, 2020. According to the constitution, the term of office for the government is five years, which means the incumbent’s constitutional mandate would come to an end on October 10 2020.
Cognizant to this, the government tabled four proposals, as potential remedies to manage the power vacuum that would occur when its current term expires.
The four thematic alternatives presented were dissolving the House of People’s Representatives (HPR), declaring a State of Emergency, making Constitutional amendments, and requesting Constitutional interpretation.
The Legal, Justice and Democracy Affairs Standing Committee of the House was requested to resolve the deadlock with the committee forwarding the constitutional interpretation route, as the best solution for the House.
Chairperson of the Legal, Justice and Democracy Affairs Sub-committee, Abebe Gedebo, presented the outcome of the scrutiny to the House. In his report, he said, the committee decided to take on the constitutional interpretation option as the most viable one, without trespassing the decrees of the constitution, in order to combat the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic to the fullest scale.
Some MPs on their part raised their protest towards the recommended resolution, while others forwarded suggestions and comments to the standing committee, for further elaboration and revision.
For instance, an MP criticized the standing committee, accusing it of infringing rules of procedures and members’ code of conduct regulation, by solely dealing with the case and avoiding the participation of stakeholders and rival political parties. The same MP further said to the House that “The best option is a political solution because the recommended solution violates the constitution and could impose a clear danger to the state.”
Meanwhile other MP’s said there is no infringement in the presented recommendation while down playing the previous comments made by the MP.
The chairperson, trying to address most of the questions forwarded to him and his standing committee, said the major revisions that were made by the members of the committee mainly encompassed specifics issues presented in the recommendations made by NEBE. The chairperson defended the recommendation and said to the House that “The constitutional interpretation resolution never stands against the constitution and has support of other decrees from the constitution itself.”
Adding to the confusion created by politics, the Executive Committee (EC) of TPLF passed a unilateral decision to hold upcoming elections at a regional level.
The decision came at the end of a three-day meeting by the EC, which came ahead of the standing committee’s report on the favored recommendation, out of the four options tabled before the House, last week by the federal government.
At the end of the TPLF’s EC meeting, it adopted a five point resolution saying that it had extensively discussed on current regional administration works, including the region’s efforts to contain the COVID-19.
“One of the pressing matters the executive has extensively deliberated on was the issue of the national agenda led by Prosperity Party (PP), which has now reached at a campaign stage where it is threatening to dismantle the constitutional order,” the statement read.
TPLF accused PP of already dragging its feet not to hold elections, even before the COVID-19 pandemic was reported in Ethiopia, which has now become “A good opportunity to establish a one man authoritarian rule,” and to strengthen the party’s efforts to extend its office term “unconstitutionally.”
Similarly, other notable political figures including the renowned Politician Lidetu Ayalew and Jawar Mohamed of Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) have been protesting against the latest recommendations made by the Federal Government. In a televised program, the two politicians have been pushing for a transitional government, by protesting the government’s recommendation that allows the incumbent to have its term prolonged after September 2020.
Delving deeper in the current ebbs of politics, the issue of elections has widely stirred controversy among various political commentators and legal experts. Some claim the need for the latest legislative action to have a constitutional interpretation, is a manifestation of a constitutional crisis.
Since last week, there are sections of political commentators who have been calling the incident a case of constitutional crisis, which in itself sparked a debate over the need to bring constitutional amendments, while some consider the possibility of forming a transitional government.
Meanwhile, on the other side, groups downplaying the claim of a constitutional crisis, say the current issue showcases a political party crisis instead of a constitutional one.
“We see some groups describing the current predicament ‘constitutional crises’. But you label it as a constitutional crisis only when the constitution fails to bring a sort of solution or remedy for particular predicaments or difficult situation Ethiopia encounters,” a prominent legal expert told The Reporter requesting not to be mentioned.
“If Ethiopia encounters a sort of difficult situation that cannot be solved by what is in Ethiopia, then you call it a constitutional crisis. But, the actual crisis we are witnessing right now is not that kind. Rather we are actually observing interparty crisis – that the existing various political parties fail to agree on what the constitution plainly articulates,” he said.
“I can simply put it in a way that it’s not the constitution that encounters a crisis. Rather it is the political party who encounters it, which arises from their failure to make concrete agreements. They do have the constitutional provision that is clearly put in place. They are confused because they are looking for their own advantage, yet the constitution offers them the proper way out that enables to solve such kind of issues,” he concluded.