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PARLIAMENT REVIEW :An unprecedented year for MPs

An unprecedented year for MPs

This year can be considered to be the most eventful and dynamic in the political, economic and social realms ever since the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) took power back in 1991. And at the epicenter of the rollercoaster ride are the legislators of the country. By and large, this has been a unique year for lawmakers who passed landmark decisions that will be engraved in the history books, writes Yonas Abiye.

Former House Speaker Abadulla Gemeda reviewing a draft bill in parliament while chairing a regular session
Former House Speaker Abadulla Gemeda reviewing a draft bill in parliament
while chairing a regular session
Debretsion Geberemichael (PhD) and Shiferaw Shigutie (R) attending PM Abiy Ahmed’s acceptance speech delivered before the House on April 2, 2018
Debretsion Geberemichael (PhD) and Shiferaw Shigutie (R) attending PM Abiy
Ahmed’s acceptance speech delivered before the House on April 2, 2018

 

During the rainy season of Ethiopia, the country’s lawmakers will be on recess and Members of Parliament (MPs) usually spend the three-month-long period in their respective constituencies interacting with the electorate discussing political, economic and social issues. They are required to listen to the demands and concerns of their voters and what their constituencies want the government in Addis Ababa to do.

After visiting their respective constituencies, MPs are expected to prepare reports regarding their visit.

Once they are back to their regular legislative business, MPs connect with their fellow legislators informing one another about their engagements with the public.

However, the opening of the 2010 EC (2017/18) parliament was not business as usual as the country was on a different trajectory. In fact, the past three consecutive years were not pleasing as the nation kept experiencing deadly violence and political instability due to growing public discontent that led to protests particularly in Oromia and Amhara regional states.

The third year of the current parliamentary term of the incumbent government was opened on Monday October 9, 2017 in the presence of the country’s head of state, President Mulatu Teshome (PhD), who, of course, presented his usual opening remarks to the joint session of the House of People’s Representatives (HPR) and House of Federation (HoF).

However, about a month before this opening of the parliamentary year, there were reports of escalating ethnic violence in Oromia and Ethiopian Somali regional states. Due to the violence, hundreds were killed in various towns of the two regions and there were wide-scale damages of properties. Adding insult to injury, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) rose dramatically. For Ethiopians and the government it was a disaster of epic proportions. Hence, the nation was struggling to deal with the humanitarian emergency. The figures even surged to close to one million before the parliament commenced its activities.

The public, who were angered by the government’s way of handling of the violence in the two regions, intensified the protests.

Due to this, the parliamentary year kicked off with major challenges for MPs and the executive branch of government that was led by former Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalgen.

Somber sessions

The Supervisory Team, which was established to assess the fatal clashes between Oromia and Ethiopian Somali regional states that left thousands dead and close to a million internally displaced, finally revealed its findings that confirmed that the conflict has not been placed under control.

The Supervisory Team, which was led by Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen, presented its report before lawmakers and highlighted that the aftermath of the deadly conflict had turned out to be even more complex and that it had already rocked the federal government to its core.

Irate MPs criticized the incumbent government for not being able to control the situation. The state of affairs led Abadula Gemeda, who previously requested to resign from his position of Speaker of the House of People’s Representatives (HPR), to reassume his responsibilities. With the return of the House Speaker [a week after he rescinded his decision], the regular session – where some 345 MPs were in attendance – heard the final 16-page report of the 13-member Supervisory Team.

Unstable House Speaker

Unlike previous years, the opening of this year’s parliament was highly anticipated among the public because of Abadula’s unexpected announcement of his resignation from his position of Speaker of the House.

Following his announcement, the Executive Committee of Ethiopia’s ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), accepted the resignation of Abadula. However, the government did not immediately accept the House Speaker’s decision with former Prime Minister Hailemariam stating that there were ongoing talks to have Abadula rescind his decision. “We will be happy if he reconsiders his decision,” PM Hailemariam said at the time.

Later in December, it was announced that Abadula would continue in his position as House Speaker. However, he only stayed in his post for a few months and finally resigned in June and was replaced by Muferiat Kemal who became the first female House Speaker in the country’s history.

Former House speaker handing over the gavel to his successor Muferiat Kemal
Former House speaker handing over the gavel to his
successor Muferiat Kemal

Untraditional actions by MPs

The other thing that made this year’s parliament different was that the number of lawmakers attending regular sessions has been recorded to be the lowest to date.

PM Abiy Ahmed defending the 2018/19 budget proposal on the final day of the just ended parliamentary year
PM Abiy Ahmed defending the 2018/19 budget proposal on the final day
of the just ended parliamentary year

In addition to regular sessions, this year has also seen the lowest turnout of MPs even when Hailemariam appeared to present his government’s report. Usually, the House used seen a large number of MPs attending sessions when the Prime Minister appears. For instance, only 310 MPs attended when Hailemariam appeared before the House in November 2017.

The low turnout was visibly seen in April when the House voted to declare a four-month-long State of Emergency (SoE). This particular incident later sparked controversy both among lawmakers as well as the entire public following Abadula’s erroneous announcement of the tally of the vote count which eventually resulted in the declaration of the SoE.

In another unaccustomed trend, displeased MPs from the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) and the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM) requested the House Speaker to summon the then PM for explanation regarding protests and the handlings of protesters by security officials.

Hailemariam subsequently met MPs in a closed session and no information was made public regarding the outcome of that particular closed session.

The reintroduction of the SoE

This year’s parliament convened a month after the House had lifted the first State of Emergency (SoE) that was declared in 2016. It is to be recalled that the decree was originally imposed for a six-month period and later extended for four more months.

However, the 10-month-long SoE did not bring any change in the country as protests resumed in the just ended year (2010 EC). It rather spread to various parts of the country and was fueled by road blockades and stay-home protests especially across Oromia. Shocking reports of bloody clashes also emerged mainly in Oromia and Ethiopian Somali regional states. More notably, the violence severely affected to country’s economy.

Eventually, the protests and violence prompted the government to declare   its second and most controversial four-month-long SoE in March 2018. The decree is the second voted in this current term of the parliament. However, unlike the first decree, the same House narrowly managed to meet the required 2/3 quorum. However, the House lifted the decree in early June two months before its four-month-long period expired.

New faces at the helm of the executive and legislative

The reignited protest brought not only the re-imposing of the SoE, but also resulted in something unprecedented that may be regarded as historic in the country’s political landscape.

Claiming that the year was eventful would be an understatement and what made it momentous was the unexpected resignation of Hailemariam Dessalegn before his term ended. His resignation paved the way for a peaceful transition of power from one leader to another that saw Abiy Ahmed (PhD) coming to power as the youngest leader in Africa. The coming of Abiy to the premiership has also brought surprising incidents the nation has never witnessed. Abiy delivered an emotional inaugural speech that was televised live for the whole nation to watch. Two weeks after the PM was sworn in, the House lifted the SoE.

It was also this year that saw a rare decision where MPs rejected the removal of a judge who was accused of alleged disciplinary breach.

Similarly, MPs also rejected a draft proposal regarding urban planning. In addition, the Ethiopian parliament, which was often regarded to be a rubberstamp congress, saw a significant number of nays.

On the closing day of this year’s parliament and in another session before that, the new PM appeared in the House where he made notable remarks and comments as a seating leader of the nation while responding to questions from MPs. He also publicly commented on some unexpected decisions of his government including the decision to accept the Alger’s Agreement, privatization of state-owned companies, as well as admitting to shocking human rights abuses that has been committed by the government before he came to the power.

On the last session, the House approved the 346.9 billion birr budget proposed by the government for the coming Ethiopian fiscal year.

Some 64 percent of the total budget allocated for the 2011 fiscal year, is allotted for poverty reduction programs. Some 91.6 billion birr or 26.4 percent of the budget is allocated for regular expenditures while 113.63 billion birr is slated for capital expenses.

Of the total budget, 135.6 billion birr is allocated to subsidize regional governments.

The parliament was once again summoned in July 2018 from recess whereby it endorsed the new amnesty bill as well as amended controversial bills that allows the appointment of deputy mayors for the city of Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa outside of the City Council.