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Ethiopian Government

Ethiopia’s present constitution was created and ratified in 1994 by a constituent assembly. The constitution establishes Ethiopia as a federal republic with a parliamentary form of government. Ethiopia is highly centralized and laws on paper don't matter. Judges are recent graduates, displacing those with experience. Family connections and political affiliation determine positions. The institutions of the state are powerful only in that authorities have unlimited power and citizens have no recourse against the arbitrary decisions of the state. The state consistently violates its own laws. The Constitution is a smoke screen Trust in institutions is eroding. Arbitrary arrest and detention are widespread. The judicial system is slow and corrupt. The legislature is broken.

The Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia was adopted by the country’s transitional government in December 1994 and came into force in August 1995. At that time, power also was formally transferred to the newly elected legislature, the Federal Parliamentary Assembly. The constitution provides for a parliamentary form of government and an administration based on nine states. It enshrines the separation of church and state and basic human rights and freedoms, and guarantees that all Ethiopian languages will enjoy equal state recognition, although Amharic is specified as the working language of the federal government. Ethiopia has a tradition of highly personal and strongly centralized government, a pattern the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (the present government) followed despite constitutional limits on federal power.

The legislative branch is made up of a bicameral parliament; the upper chamber is the House of the Federation (108 seats); the lower chamber is the House of People’s Representatives (548 seats). Members of the upper chamber are elected by the states’ parliamentary assemblies, whereas members of the lower chamber are elected by popular vote. All recognized national groups are guaranteed representation in the upper house; representation in the lower chamber is on the basis of population, with special set-asides for minorities. Terms in both chambers are five years, with elections held in May, in years 2000, 2005, 2010, and 2015. Legislative power is vested in the House of People’s Representatives.

The executive branch includes the president, prime minister, Council of State, and Council of Ministers. The president is elected by both legislative chambers for a six-year term. The leader of the largest party in the lower chamber becomes prime minister, who submits cabinet ministers for the chamber’s approval. All ministers serve for the duration of the legislative session. Executive power is in the hands of the prime minister, who is also the commander in chief of the armed forces. The current president is Girma Wolde-Giorgis, who has served in that position since 2001. The current prime minister is Meles Zenawi, who has served since August 1995. The judicial branch is composed of federal and state courts. The Federal Supreme Court is the highest court and exercises jurisdiction over all federal matters; lesser federal courts hear cases from the states. The president and vice president of the Federal Supreme Court are recommended by the prime minister and approved by the lower chamber of the legislature.

Ethiopia is divided into nine ethnically based states: Afar, Amhara, Banishangul/Gumuz, Gambela, Hareri, Oromiya, Somali, Tigray, and Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples, as well as two special city administrations: Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa. The states are subdivided into zones, districts, and sub-districts.

Each of the nine states has its own parliamentary assembly, which elects representatives to the upper chamber of the federal parliament, the House of the Federation. Each has taxing powers and its own budget, but in practice the assemblies have had to rely on the central government for funding.

In 2004 the United States Department of State reported that the judiciary remains weak and overburdened, with a significant backlog of cases. Although the judicial and legal system are beginning to show signs of independence, routine abuses or neglect by the government of rights afforded under the Ethiopian constitution occur, and severe shortages of personnel and funding hamper effective operation of the courts. The government continues to decentralize and restructure the judicial system and has established courts at the state, zonal, district, and local levels. The structure of the state judiciary mirrors that of the federal judiciary. Efforts to strengthen the state court system mean that regional cases now are more likely to have a local hearing.

Elections for state assemblies and for the House of People’s Representatives are by universal suffrage at age 18 and secret ballot. A National Election Board prepares and conducts elections for federal and state offices. According to international and local observers, the 2000 national elections were generally fair and free in most areas, despite reports of serious irregularities in some areas. Ethiopia has rules copied from elsewhere but the institutions are not there. Elections are meaningless without building institutions.

Some government officials are beginning to acknowledge that a functioning state much differentiate between its ruling party, the government, and the state. Still, there is no historical basis in Ethiopia or understanding in the public (or ruling party leaders') psyche of such a separation of roles in Ethiopia. Without such a distinction, ruling party elites appear genuinely to view threats to the ruling party -- such as those posed by otherwise legitimate political opposition groups -- as being threats to the state.

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Page last modified: 21-08-2012 19:45:26 ZULU