Ethiopian Politics

The government is largely led by ethnic Tigreans. This is in contrast to the Imperial regime, and the Derg which replaced it, which were both dominated by the Amhara.

Ethiopia has been ruled by a coalition of four parties, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, since 1991 with Meles Zenawi as its leader until his death in August 2012. Current Prime Minister Hailemariam was expected to run for office during the 2015 elections.

Ethiopia is a federal republic. The ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) controls the government. The Ethiopian peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front is composed of four regional parties: The TPLF of Tigray, OPDO of Oromia, ANDM of Amhara, SNNDM of the southern Region. There are also non member parties affiliated with the EPRDF in all the regions of the country. In 2012, following the death of former prime minister Meles Zenawi, parliament elected Hailemariam Desalegn as his successor. In national parliamentary elections in 2010, the EPRDF and affiliated parties won 545 of 547 seats to remain in power for a fourth consecutive five-year term.

Following civil unrest, which began in February 1974, the aging Haile Selassie I was deposed on September 12, 1974, by a provisional administrative council of soldiers, known as the Derg ("committee"). The Derg seized power, installing a government that was socialist in name and military in style. It then summarily executed 59 members of the royal family and ministers and generals of the emperor's government; Emperor Haile Selassie I was strangled in the basement of his palace on August 22, 1975.

The Derg's collapse was hastened by droughts, famine, and insurrections, particularly in the northern regions of Tigray and Eritrea. In 1989, the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) merged with other ethnically based opposition movements to form the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). In May 1991, EPRDF forces advanced on Addis Ababa. Mengistu fled the country for asylum in Zimbabwe.

In July 1991, the EPRDF, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), and others established the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE) comprised of an 87-member Council of Representatives and guided by a national charter that functioned as a transitional constitution. In June 1992, the OLF withdrew from the government; in March 1993, members of the Southern Ethiopia Peoples' Democratic Coalition left the government.

In May 1991, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF), led by Isaias Afwerki, assumed control of Eritrea and established a provisional government. This provisional government independently administered Eritrea until April 23-25, 1993, when Eritreans voted overwhelmingly for independence in a UN-monitored free and fair referendum. Eritrea, with Ethiopia’s consent, was declared independent on April 27. The United States recognized its independence the next day. In Ethiopia, President Meles Zenawi and members of the TGE pledged to oversee the formation of a multi-party democracy. The election for a 547-member constituent assembly was held in June 1994. The assembly adopted the constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in December 1994. The elections for Ethiopia's first popularly chosen national parliament and regional legislatures were held in May and June 1995. Most opposition parties chose to boycott these elections, ensuring a landslide victory for the EPRDF. International and non-governmental observers concluded that opposition parties would have been able to participate had they chosen to do so. The Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia was installed in August 1995.

In May 1998, Eritrean forces attacked part of the Ethiopia-Eritrea border region, seizing some Ethiopian-controlled territory. The strike spurred a 2-year war between the neighboring states that cost more than 70,000 lives. On June 18, 2000, Ethiopian and Eritrean leaders signed an Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities and on December 12, 2000, a peace agreement known as the Algiers Agreement.

Opposition candidates won 12 seats in national parliamentary elections in 2000. The next national elections were held in May 2005. Ethiopia held the most free and fair national campaign period in the country's history prior to May 15, 2005 elections. Unfortunately, electoral irregularities and tense campaign rhetoric resulted in a protracted election complaints review process. Public protests turned violent in June 2005. The National Electoral Board released final results in September 2005, with the opposition taking over 170 of the 547 parliamentary seats and 137 of the 138 seats for the Addis Ababa municipal council. Opposition parties called for a boycott of parliament and civil disobedience to protest the election results. In November 2005, Ethiopian security forces responded to public protests by arresting scores of opposition leaders, as well as journalists and human rights advocates, and detaining tens of thousands of civilians in rural detention camps for up to three months. Disputes over the results triggered protests and led to violence that killed some 200 people.

Ethiopia's ruling EPRDF party imposed greater and greater restrictions on the media and political opponents since the 2005 elections, when the opposition made substantial gains and challenged the ruling party's hold on politics. In December 2005, the government charged 131 opposition, media, and civil society leaders with capital offenses including "outrages against the constitution." Key opposition leaders and almost all of the 131 were pardoned and released from prison 18 months later.

As of March 2008, approximately 150 of the elected opposition members of parliament had taken their seats and currently remain in parliament. Ruling and opposition parties have engaged in little dialogue since the opposition leaders were freed. Government harassment made it very difficult for opposition candidates to compete in local elections in April 2008. As a result, the ruling party won more than 99% of the local seats throughout Ethiopia.

In June 2008, former CUD vice-chairman Birtukan Mideksa was elected the party chairman of the new Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) party at its inaugural session in Addis Ababa. In October 2008 the Ethiopian Government arrested over 100 Oromo leaders, accusing some of being members of the outlawed Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). At the end of December 2008, after detaining Birtukan several times briefly during the month, the government re-arrested her, saying that she had violated the conditions of her pardon (she was one of the prominent opposition leaders pardoned by the government in the summer of 2007). Her original sentence of life imprisonment was reinstated.

In April 2009 the Ethiopian Government arrested 40 individuals, mostly Amhara military or ex-military members allegedly affiliated with Ginbot 7, an external opposition party, for their suspected involvement in a terrorist assassination plot of government leaders. This party was founded in May 2008 in the United States by Berhanu Nega, one of the opposition leaders in the 2005 elections, and advocates for change in the government "by any means." In August 2009, the Federal High Court found 13 of the defendants guilty in absentia and one not guilty in absentia. In November 2009, the court found another 27 guilty and is seeking the death penalty for all 40 defendants.

The political scene saw significant changes since the previous elections, following splits, mergers, and the emergence of new parties. Among the opposition parties, the Forum for Democratic Dialogue coalition (Medrek), presented the largest number of candidates - 421, followed by the All Ethiopian Unity Organisation (AEUO) with 319 and the Ethiopian Democratic Party (EDP) with 230 candidates to the House of People's Representatives (HPR). The fragmentation of the main opposition forces in the aftermath of the 2005 elections, together with the departure of important opposition figures from the Ethiopian political scene, in conjunction with changes to the legal framework resulted in a cumulative narrowing of the political space within the country.

Presidential and parliamentary elections were scheduled to take place in May 2010. As of December 2009, however, leading opposition politicians voiced skepticism that the Ethiopian Government would permit free and fair elections. In September 2009, the Forum for Democratic Dialogue, a coalition of major opposition parties, walked out of interparty talks after complaining that the ruling EPRDF refused to hold bilateral Forum-EPRDF talks. Opposition party leaders reported an intensification of harassment, arbitrary arrest, and intimidation of their supporters, especially in rural areas, nine months before the scheduled elections.

Generally, the media ensured a neutral coverage of the main political campaign events. The state-owned media gave the ruling party more than 50% of its total coverage on news programmes. A generous amount of free airtime was distributed proportionately to the different parties. Overall, the media were cautious in their reporting.

In simultaneous national and regional parliamentary elections in May 2010, the ruling EPRDF won more than 99% of all legislative seats in the country. In a tally of the popular vote, 91.95% voted for EPRDF and affiliate parties, while only 8.05% voted for the opposition countrywide. Election Day was peaceful as 89% of registered voters cast ballots, but independent observation of the vote was severely limited. Only European Union and African Union observers were permitted, and they were restricted to the capital and barred from proximity to polling places. Although those few independent observers allowed access to the process did not question the EPRDF victory, there was ample evidence that unsavory government tactics--including intimidation of opposition candidates and supporters--influenced the extent of the victory.

Overall, the 2010 elections were not up to international standards because the environment conducive to free and fair elections was not in place. The EPRDF used the advantages of incumbency to restrict political space for opposition candidates and activists. At the local level, thousands of opposition activists complained of EPRDF-sponsored mistreatment ranging from harassment in submitting candidacy forms to beatings by local militia members, and complained further that there was no non-EPRDF dominated forum to which to present those complaints.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi died 20 August 2012, at the age of 57, after months of speculation about his health. State television announced his death, saying he died from a sudden infection at a hospital abroad. Government spokesman Bereket Simon would not say where Meles died, or disclose the illness that led to his hospitalization. The prime minister had been sick for quite a while.

His biggest legacy within the country and beyond has to do with the economic growth in the country since he assumed power. And his ability to keep the country strong and relevant on the African landscape, both in the Horn of Africa and at the African Union level. Meles earned praise abroad for improvements in the economy, education and health care. But human rights groups sharply criticized him for various abuses, including restrictions on independent media.

The deputy prime minister was in charge while the House of Representatives prepared to decide or elect whoever takes charge of the constitution. So there was clarity on that from the constitution of the country. Acting Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn wase sworn in and served the remaining three years of Meles' five-year term. Hailemariam, an engineer by training, was the minister of foreign affairs and deputy prime minister until August 2012. With the appointment of Hailemariam, a collective leadership was put in place. Although government officials said that a collective leadership was always part of the ruling party's policy.

Ethiopia witnessed several anti-government demonstrations in mid-2013, a rare sight. And the new prime minister also replaced most of the cabinet. But these developments are not part of any fundamental change within the government. Hailemariam was implementing the policies adopted by the ruling party."If there were people who were expecting any kind of change in terms of directions and fundamental policies then they will definitely be disappointed because there was neither the intention nor the tendency to bring about any change whatsoever in this regard.

The only thing that changed was how decision making was negotiated within the ruling party between the different power centers. Regional governments became quite important, and of course the security apparatus. So on various aspects of the management of the affairs of the country negotiations need to be undertaken among these different centers of power.

The only international observers during Ethiopia’s elections 25 May 2015 would be from the African Union, with opposition parties already feeling the AU observers are not demanding enough in their criticism of Ethiopia's election process, which is dominated by the ruling party. The European Union decided to sit out this year's elections because its previous recommendations to Ethiopia were not accepted.

Nearly 37 million Ethiopians were registered for the elections. More than 5,800 candidates from 58 political parties are running for parliament and regional offices. Ethiopians voted in elections that were expected to give the ruling EPRDF party another five-year hold on power. There were no reports of election-related violence and African Union observers said the voting was "orderly."

Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s party recently voted to observe two term limits for prime minister, meaning that if as expected he won, this would be his final term. Ethiopia’s ruling party won the election with an overwhelming majority. The electoral board said May 27, 2015 the ruling EPRDF party and its allies won all the parliamentary seats decided so far - 442 out of 547. The Ethiopian Political Revolutionary Democratic Front won all of the seats in the capital city, Addis Ababa.

Final results were announced on June 22. Ethiopia’s ruling party said it had overwhelmingly won the 2015 parliamentary elections, claiming 546 out of 547 seats in legislative body for a five year term. For the past five years, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and their affiliated parties has faced only one opposition member in parliament, and one independent member often voted with the ruling party.

Oromos are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, making up about a third of the population. In Decmber 2015 students from the Oromo ethnic group in Ethiopia had been protesting for weeks against an urban expansion plan around the capital that they feared will lead to land grabs without proper compensation. Security forces clashed with demonstrators, killing at least five people this week. The student protests spread quickly through the Oromo region that surrounds the capital. Farmers and other citizens joined the demonstrations. Protests against the "Addis Ababa Integrated Regional Development Plan" also erupted in April 2014, resulting in mass arrests and several dozen deaths during clashes with security forces.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on 19 December 2015 that at least 75 people had been killed in recent weeks while protesting an urban renewal plan in the Oromo region surrounding the capital, Addis Ababa. Opposition groups say security forces have killed several people during weeks of protests over a government re-zoning plan. Members of Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group view the plan as an infringement on their rights. "Police and military forces have fired on demonstrations, killing at least 75 protesters and wounding many others, according to activists," the human rights watchdog said in a statement.

The Ethiopian government pardoned more than 700 prisoners on 13 September 2016 in celebration of New Year's Day on the Ethiopian calendar and the Muslim holiday Eid. Among those released were people charged under the country's controversial anti-terror law. Critics of the law say it is used to stifle dissent and lock up political opposition members. Prisoners were released from Kaliti, Dire Dawa, Ziway, Shewa Robit and Harer, as well as other prisons administered by the federal government in the Southern region, Tigray region and Amhara region.

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