Ethiopia: Abiy rejects transitional govt to solve election impasse

Addis Ababa (AFP) –


Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Monday ruled out forming a transitional government once his mandate expires in early October, brushing aside a suggestion from opposition politicians who say the country is hurtling towards a constitutional crisis.

Africa's second most populous country was due to hold national elections in August that Abiy hoped would give him a mandate for wide-ranging political and economic reforms.

But the election board announced in late March that it would be impossible to organise the polls on time because of the coronavirus pandemic.

That means elections will not happen before lawmakers' mandates expire in October -- a dilemma for which the constitution does not offer a clear solution.

"People can raise the issue of caretaker and transitional government but it's unconstitutional when put into practice," Abiy, the winner of last year's Nobel Peace Prize, said Monday during a question-and-answer session with lawmakers.

He also said his political party, the Prosperity Party, was eager to face voters.

"We want the elections to be held. The Prosperity Party isn't a party that is scared of elections," he said.

Last month Ethiopia's Council of Constitutional Inquiry held public hearings on possible next steps, and the upper house of parliament is expected to respond to its recommendations soon.

Abiy said Monday the election delay could last "a few months," although the election board told the council it would need at least 10 more months to prepare.

Opposition leaders have accused Abiy of seizing on the coronavirus pandemic to extend his time in office.

They have also demanded a more prominent role in resolving the impasse, arguing that consulting parliament is insufficient because most lawmakers support the ruling party.

During a press briefing in late May, Dawud Ibsa, chairman of the opposition Oromo Liberation Front, said "some of the powers of the government should be under the control" of the opposition until elections can be held.

Abiy, for his part, has accused opposition politicians of trying to exploit uncertainty created by the pandemic to claim power for themselves.

Ethiopia announced its first case of COVID-19 in mid-March and has so far tallied 2,156 cases and 27 deaths.

About half of those cases have been recorded in the past 10 days, and the health ministry said Monday it "would like to extend our call for more collective action than ever before" to fight the pandemic.