Determined against all odds
In what was said to be a trend setting press conference, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) appeared before the media for the third time since his ascendance to power a little over a year ago. In a Press Room located within the compound of the Office of the Prime Minister on Lorenzo Te’azaz Street, the 42-year old Premier announced the determination of his party and government to hold the upcoming national election in 2020.
Admitting that he is unaware of the resistance the newly drafted electoral law is facing from 33 opposition parties, Abiy, however, reiterated his party’s determination to see the upcoming national election take place within the stipulated time frame. In a statement they issued on Thursday August 1, 2019, the 33 parties demanded the revocation of 20 articles and the amendment of 13 others from the newly drafted electoral law which is now tabled before the House of People’s Representatives.
“The draft was prepared with the involvement of various experts along with the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) unlike the previous practice of drafting laws by only government experts,” Abiy defended the draft proclamation adding that there had been discussions on the draft proclamation; and there will be additional ones at the HPR before it got approved.
But, he is of the view that it is not appropriate to accept or reject a law depending on individual interest.
“This draft proclamation is by far much better than the previous separate proclamations providing for the establishing of the NEBE as well as the political parties’ registration proclamation,” he said indicating that the new proclamation will incorporate the two proclamations into one.
However, it is clear that there are two burgeoning points of view regarding the upcoming General Election in Ethiopia. One is advocating for the postponement of the election until the country can ascertain stability and peace, Abiy says; while the other side discourages doing so in favor of holding the election as soon as possible. For him, both sides have some truth in their argument.
“A month and half ago, we discussed this subject at the Executive Committee meeting of the EPRDF, and we also evaluated the pros and cons of holding the General Election within the allotted time frame,” Abiy revealed. “We had no reason to suggest that the election should not be held in the original timetable. Had we had the impression that the election won’t be held, we would have not allocated election budget, which, by the way, is more than the budget allocated for an election during the past five cycles.”
He also stated that the electoral law reforms could not have gone thus far if there were intentions to extend the election beyond the timeframe.
“But, the assertion that the current government would no longer be illegitimate if the election is postponed is a flawed argument. And it emanates from not understanding the law. If the parliament postpones the election, it is a legal parliament and it is possible to postpone elections and still remain a legitimate government,” he stressed contesting thoughts that urges the government to hold the election as per the schedule unless which the government and its leader, the Prime Minister, will be illegitimate leaders of the country.
“Even if the country extends the election by 2-3 years, it is unlikely that we could create a perfect electoral institutions, attitude and legal framework as our history of institution building suggests,” Abiy indicated, hence, “the EPRDF has taken a general understanding that, rather than extending the election for this reason, it is imperative that we hold it according to the plan.”
The difference at this time is that, Abiy told journalists, EPRDF won’t decide whether to hold the election or not unlike previous times. And, it is supporting the electoral board as a party in order to make the process and the outcome of the election to be standard.
“If people believe that their votes counted and when people do not die or get wounded after the election, we can say it is successful,” the PM evaluates.
Apart from the election, Abiy also dwelt on multiple questions that were raised by the members of the media.
Speaking of the internal fractures within EPRDF, especially being manifested in the recent war of words by two of member parties of the coalition, the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Amhara Democratic Party (ADP), Abiy said that such behavior is not new to the member parties; what is new is the expression of their thoughts and arguments in public statements accusing each other.
“Following the statements by TPLF and ADP, people were concerned about the country and its future,” he said, reminding that every party has to measure its actions and deeds based on two criteria: political morality (the pros and cons of the action) and the outcome.
Also asserting that both statements should be measured based on the benefits they bring both to the respective regions the parties lead as well as Ethiopia as a whole, he said, expressing his wish that the parties did not handle the situation in the manner that they did.
“I prefer the statements by TPLF and ADP had not been made in that manner. But, there is nothing to be shocked about so far since politics does not involve bullets. It is necessary to allow everyone exercise their freedom of expression by opening the platform,” Abiy stressed.
The other members of the coalition as well as the affiliate parties have a role to create the platform for the two to come to a common ground and discuss their issues, he directed.
Apart from this, Abiy said that the effort to forge the four-party coalition into a one national party is a work in progress and there is a consensus that the party has to grow into a one national party among the member parties of the coalition.
“There are issues that have been raised in this regard like things we need to work on first before coming to the formation of the party. But, there is no one against the formation of one, national party,” he revealed.
While hoping that the coalition will eventually be forged into a national party, Abiy also believes that it should involve the participation of all parties and that there is a need for further discussion on the subject matter.
Commenting on the “coup” on June 22, 2019 that claimed four Amhara region senior officials including the President Amhachew Mekonnen (PhD) and chief of staff of the Ethiopian Defense Force Seare Mekonnen (Gen.), Abiy said that it should not be taken as a simple matter because it was foiled quickly.
“The event of June was very dangerous had it not failed; it could have averted the democratic process we have embarked up on,” Abiy said. “If it was not aborted quickly and the operations (killings) were executed as planned, it could have created unprecedented destruction.”
The operation that aborted the coup attempt, according to Abiy, was complicated and was directed by some “quality leadership” which he left for history to reveal in detail.
While admitting that more than 350 people were arrested in connection to the attempted “coup,” Abiy, however, argued that about 120 of them have been released since. “We have received more than 1200 public tips regarding the ill-fated operation,” Abiy told journalists, adding that the participation of the public in apprehending those involved was instrumental.
Apart from politics, Abiy also reflected on the economic aspect of nation dealing with inflation and forex. He said that his administration’s effort to control inflation was largely successful despite the spike in the rate in May. Nevertheless, he asserted that the economic sector remains to be the government’s primary focus.
He also said that the country has generated better foreign exchange compared to the previous year. Apart from the availability of forex, the year was also better in terms of private sector share from the foreign currency distribution, Abiy claimed. “Unlike the previous years, forex allocation this year saw bigger chunk of the forex going to the private sector,” Abiy stated.
“Forex has been better both in terms of availability and allocation; the majority went to the private sector,” he told journalists.
But, he did not reflect much on the dwindling export performance and the plan for sustainable forex generation.
Finally, speaking of the Greening Ethiopia initiative that planted more than 350 million seedlings in 12 hours, Abiy said that it was much more than planting trees; and that it is a victory to country as whole.
“The world is talking about of our cooperation and many appreciated our ability to come together for the same cause. We will now focus on the improvement of the investment landscape and one of our mottos for the year will be ‘finishing’; it will be a 'year of execution!’ he asserted.