finding a middle ground

Ethiopia’s parliament votes to sever ties with Tigray region leaders

By Morris Kiruga

Posted on October 8, 2020 00:08

ethiopia parliament
Ethiopian legislators vote inside the Parliament Building in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on January 2, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Ethiopia’s parliament has voted to break off ties with the political administration in Tigray, just days after it had begun a new session from which the northern region had withdrawn all its representatives.

In a decision communicated via the state-controlled Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation on 6 October, Ethiopia’s House of Federation voted to have Addis Ababa “sever any kind of relationship with the Tigray region state assembly and the region’s highest executive body.”

Instead, it said it would with local institutions providing basic services in the region.

Election catalyst

While opening the country’s new parliamentary session on Monday 5 October, President Sahle-Work Zewde promised that the country will hold its elections no later than October 2021.

But relations between the Tigray region and the government in Addis Ababa have become increasingly tense since the general elections were officially delayed earlier this year due to the on-going coronavirus pandemic.

READ MORE Ethiopia delays elections: Is COVID a valid excuse?

The elections, originally slated in August for this year, were meant to be the country’s first democratic polls in 15 years.

But as the pandemic got way, the electoral body warned in late March about the hazards and challenges of holding an election amidst a health crisis, in addition to insecurity and weather issues.

READ MORE Ethiopia: Indefinite postponement of polls raising political tempers

The indefinite postponement was approved by parliament in April, but the move set in motion a constitutional crisis, especially since no exact date had been given.

Just about every opposition party rejected the delay, with the Tigray’s People Liberation Front (TPLF) threatening to hold its own elections in the Tigray region.

A threat it followed through on in September when it held its local regional elections.

Tigray withdraws

Tigray withdrew its representatives from the two-tier national assembly’s new session, citing its long-held position that its five-year administration lapsed on 5 October.

Tigray’s Communication Head Liya Kassa, told the online publication The Addis Standard that the region would not send representatives “as an elected and legitimate government has not been established.”

READ MORE Ethiopia: Tigray regional polls escalate tensions with Addis Ababa

In the lead up to Tigray’s regional elections in September, the administration of PM Abiy Ahmed met the region’s defiance initially with veiled threats of military intervention to one of not recognising any new political administration other than the TPLF.

“Solidifying its position”

Tigray’s ruling party TPLF won more than 98% of the seats in the regional assembly in the September elections, solidifying its position in a region it has ruled for the last three decades.

  • The assembly then confirmed TPLF Chair Debretsion Gebremichael as the president of Tigray. Gebremicheal, a former deputy prime minister of Ethiopia, was the region’s deputy president and acting president since January 2018.

In late September, the region’s leaders said that they would not recognise any federal laws or policy decisions passed after 5 October, as each side of the escalating political divide digs into its heels.

READ MORE Ethiopia’s political crisis is playing out in the regions

The two sides are now locked in what Rashid Abdi, a regional analyst, is calling: “mutual delegitimisation.”

“I do not see Tigray regional state watering down its demands because that would mean it would have to overturn its elections in which more than 2.7 million Tigrayans participated. Or the federal government has to recognise the election. Either way a middle ground has to be found,” said Tsedale Lemma, Editor-in-Chief of Addis Standard during an interview with  Al Jazeera.

APTOPIX Ethiopia Regional Election © A member of Tigray Special Forces casts his vote in a local election in the regional capital Mekelle, in the Tigray region of Ethiopia Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. (AP Photo)

The search for a middle ground

What a middle ground would look like, or whether either side is willing to negotiate, is still unclear. As it stands, the dispute over legitimacy could escalate in the coming weeks and months, as Addis Ababa uses its federal might to try and rein in Tigray. In the meantime, the region’s growing anger could trigger secession protocols and form an independent state.

Meanwhile, the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country, the impetus for the August election postponement, crossed the 80,000 mark on Tuesday 6 October after more than 500 more people tested positive.

Ethiopia has conducted more than 1.3 million tests and now has one of the highest confirmed cases on the continent, with 1, 238 deaths since the first case in March.

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