“Unrest and a political crisis have led to the loss of lives and displacement of many,” Hailemariam said in a televised address. “I see my resignation as vital in the bid to carry out reforms that would lead to sustainable peace and democracy,” he said.
Hailemariam said he would stay on as premier until the ruling coalition found a replacement.
Hailemariam’s resignation comes as the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) is under unprecedented pressure to end years of anti-government protests by making democratic reforms, releasing political prisoners and allowing freedom of expression.
The recent release of several high-profile political prisoners, including opposition leader Bekele Gerba and detained journalist Eskinder Nega, had buoyed hopes that real change was coming.
But years of anti-government protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions will be hard to pacify.
After demonstrations began in 2014, a nine-month state of emergency was imposed in late 2016 after hundreds of protesters were killed by security forces and thousands more were arrested.
Last year, demonstrations resumed in towns across Oromia, home to the country’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, who have long seen themselves as marginalised by the central government.
At the same time, ethnic violence – especially between Oromos and Ethiopian Somalis – has escalated sharply.
The military killed at least 16 Oromo people during anti-government protests on 14 December. In the days that followed, interethnic clashes broke out between Oromos and Somalis, killing at least 61 people.
The EPRDF, which is made up of four parties, has long been dominated by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which was founded by former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
Relations between the TPLF and its sister parties – the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO) and Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement – have never been more fractious.
Over the next few months, all four members of the coalition will hold conferences in their respective regional capitals before meeting in Mekelle for a coalition-wide congress later in the year.
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