Rebirth of the ruling party
As Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD), Chairman of the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), is pushing for the merger of the Front and its affiliates into a single party; the quest on the legality of the prospective party and the controversy surrounding it are still far from over.
Nonetheless, as of last week, PM Abiy in his televised statement announced ‘the formation of Prosperity Party.’ The announcement came in the same day the national congress of the Southern People’s Democratic Movement (SPDM) held its meeting to approve the merger.
So far, within the Front, all but the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) have approved the merger in their respective council meetings. In addition, affiliate parties of EPRDF such as the Somali Democratic Party (SDP) has approved the merger.
It can be recalled that, according to reports, some of the senior members in SDP were expressing their doubts on the merger. In this regard, according to Addis Standard, a local news website, Mohamed Shalle, Somali Democratic Party (SDP) Central Committee Bureau Head, told a regional broadcaster that, pursuant to the merger and the establishment of the new party, the SDP will follow the right procedures of presenting the decision to join the new party, which involves dissolving SDP.
“All they (EPRDF) can do is offer a merger. And for that to happen, our Executive Committee, Central Committee as well as the party wide congress and cadres, should all debate and approve it if and only if they think it is in the best interest of the Somali people and their unwavering demand for self-autonomy and the protection of the constitutionally enshrined sacred pact – which is multinational federalism,” Addis Standard quoted the Bureau Head speaking to the Somali Region Broadcaster.
However, over the week, both the executive and central committees of the party have agreed to the merger.
Moreover, according to reports of the state media, affiliate parties such as Afar National Democratic Party (ANDP), the Benishangul Gumuz People’s Democratic Party (BGPDP), Gambella People’s Unity Democratic Party as well as the Harari National League (HNL) have all decided to merge with the ‘Prosperity Party.’
TPLF, one of the founders and the oldest member of EPRDF, on the other hand, has rejected the merger in its both executive as well as central committee meetings, following a similar decision taken at the Executive meeting as well as its boycott of the Central Committee meetings of the EPRDF.
The party argues that the merger process was supposed to be approved by the EPRDF congress, which is the highest power structure in the Front, before the decision was announced. In addition, the regional party via its senior officials criticized the merger for not following the right producers and laws.
In what seems to be a response for these accusations, Abiy has downplayed the criticism and said that the establishment of the Prosperity Party was done as per the law. He also gave the credit to Qeerro, Fano, and Zerma, and said that the birth of the Prosperity Party is the result of their struggle.
Following this announcement from Abiy, critiques said that the PM is making a statement about the new party which is in formation process and is yet to have a legal personality yet.
What does the law say?
The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE), chaired by a former political exile, Birtukan Mediksa, and which has recently amended its laws and directives, is mandated to monitor and regulate political parties.
In this regard, when it comes to mergers or unity of parties, the newly amended law on the Ethiopian Electoral and Political Parties Proclamation clearly states the formalities which parties need to follow before registration.
The law states that political parties wishing to merge must submit their proposal in writing to the Board, two months prior to the issuance of the time schedule for local or general elections and registration is made in accordance with the provisions of the Proclamation [the Ethiopian Electoral and Political Parties].”
In this regard, “the application for merger shall consist of the following: each political party, according to its by-laws, should provide a decision demonstrating the party’s assembly expressing acceptance of the merger; the parties written agreement outlining the merger details; and the new designation resulted by the merger of the political parties.”
As far as these legal producers are concerned, three three members of the Front; Amhara Democratic Party(ADP), Oromo Democratic Party (ODP), as well as SPDM, have conducted their congress meetings and have decided to merge.
Following this, the respective parties, must pass through a number of legal steps to get legal recognition by the Board. As far as the merger of the aforementioned parties is concerned, the NEBE confirmed that it has sent its representatives to the respective congress meetings.
“Yes, NEBE has sent representatives for the congresses,” Soleyana Shimeles communication advisor of the Board told The Reporter.
Responding to The Reporter’s question on whether the parties in the merger notified the Board ahead of their decision? Soleyana said: “There is no legal requirement for them to voice what their intentions are when they discuss or decide internal party decisions including mergers.”
“Unless they do that, their legal status will stay as it is,” she added.
Following this development, Oromia Regional State has announced that it has appointed three new appointees to serve in different positions in the Prosperity Party in Oromia. In this regard, Fekadu Tessema, executive member within EPRDF is appointed to serve as the head of the Prosperity Party Office in Oromia.
This announcement from the region has brought arguments with some stating that the appointment is rushed since the ‘Prosperity Party’ itself has no legal personality as of the moment of appointment.
The law dictates that, any political party can operate as a political party in Ethiopia, only upon registration by the Board and a receipt of a certificate of legal personality, in accordance with the relevant proclamation.
“As far as I saw recent news, the appointments are given by a regional government. Hence, we do not really regulate regional government's appointments,” Soleyana said.
In addition, it is also not clear how TPLF is planning to go along with the merger. The party will conduct its congress meeting in a few weeks and take a final decision on the issue at hand. If it ends up deciding to reject the merger, TPLF and its members who hold offices will remain independent candidates for the rest of the electoral period.
“Members of the merged political parties as well as those serving in elected offices at any council levels, who do not want to continue as members of the newly merged party, shall be deemed as an independent candidate for the rest of the electoral period,” dictates the law.
Moreover, if any disputes occur or criminal activities are committed by any of the parties within the merger, there is a possibility that the merger process might be held.
“If a political party is charged with a crime it can potentially deregister or dissolve the party, the party may not merge before a decision is given on the charge or the case is closed,” reads the law.
These uncertain political scene in the country and particularly within the ruling party, unfolds ahead of the 2020 upcoming national election.