To EPRDF: Dissolve new parliament (It's legal!)

By Eskinder Nega / July 3, 2010
>As a brutal dictator, Mengistu lived violating the sovereignty of the people (1974-1991). As a ruthless mercenary, Meles Zenawi lives on violating the sovereignty of both the people and the country”Ethiomedia 
<a class= "As a brutal dictator, Mengistu lived violating the sovereignty of the people (1974-1991). As a ruthless mercenary, Meles Zenawi lives on violating the sovereignty of both the people and the country”Ethiomedia
The preparation for the elections in May 2010 was more than a year in the making in the PM’s office. Abay Tsehaye, once a fixture in popular imagination as one of several mystic leaders who were really running the EPRDF behind the public persona of Meles Zenawi, but later to be demystified, publicly humiliated and now a grateful underling with a ministerial portfolio as national security advisor approached the PM’s office every morning with a judicious expression. Invariably, he was impeccably attired, and frequently held a thin folder in one of his hands. And for what time they deemed necessary, Abay had almost exclusive access (but not always) to the PM while he briefed him on a range of national security developments, but which, according to sources, often ended up being dominated by the approaching elections.

In the meantime, Meles had insisted on preparing thoroughly for mass unrest, particularly in Addis, with a contingency plan even for an emergency evacuation of the palace. Tens of thousands of security personnel were trained and deployed in and around Addis: the latest vehicles and firearms were purchased and intelligence (both human and electronics) was beefed up. All part of a concerted effort “if possible, to deter; if not, to contain and crush riots.” Indeed, each stage of the plan had gone faultlessly; gratifying habitually worrying Meles. And they were all to be rewarded when Election Day came and went peacefully.

But what neither Meles Zenawi nor his security apparatus prepared for, nor foresee, was a party machine that was to deliver more than it was meant to (the 99 .6% “victory”) – a Pyrrhic victory that has shattered the moral foundation of the system.

Meles Zenawi approached the election by the book. He set a strategy: win the election by any means necessary. He afforded an efficient management: look no further than the tens of thousands of security personnel deployed with clockwork precision. He articulated a unique political vision: revolutionary democracy, as he eccentrically calls it. And he tried to establish a personality cult: women and youth were encouraged to wear t-shirts bearing his image. (Everyone stopped wearing them after the first day.)

What failed spectacularly, while he was busy elsewhere, was the judgment of his party underlings. Their obtuse single-mindedness has pushed the system to the brink by giving it an electoral “victory” that could be believed by none. This illustrates the chronic lack of quality middle-rankers---the true believers--- that is precariously dogging the EPRDF. In the hysteria that followed the 2005 elections, millions of new recruits were literally conscripted in to the EPRDF with no regard to standard recruitment guidelines. Many of them have moved up the ladder to middle ranking positions owing to superior education over long time members. There was an implicit, though not quite formally articulated, understanding to their mass enlistment: they will serve and they expect to be rewarded in return. It’s strictly a utilitarian relationship. And that is what essentially prevailed in this election. They were asked to deliver(by whatever means necessary); they did, and they expect to be rewarded. Beyond that, it’s for the real politicians to pick up the pieces.

The EPRDF leadership slyly recognizes that the absence of overt protests by the public is not an acknowledgment of the new status quo; which has palpably slammed the door on peaceful dissent in all but name. Neither does it need to be reminded of King Menelik, who after proclaiming one of his edicts inquired about the public’s reaction only to be told by thrilled aides that there were none, reportedly said, ‘ Ah, this means they are against it,’ to dramatize the public’s dangerously suppressed anger. This anger will sooner or later seek an outlet; it will not remain bottled up forever. And the indefensible “result” of the election has also fortuitously reduced the EPRDF grassroots---who, unlike the party’s top brass, live amongst the people--- in to an emotional wreak. No one is winning from this election “result.” This is where the role of Meles Zenawi is imperative to thwart a looming disaster for his party and the nation. His domination of his party is no more simply intellectual. A bungled election has elevated it to an emotional level as well. The party grassroots look up to him to lead them out of moral wilderness. He should rise up to the call of leadership and foresight.

Here is a roadmap for the EPRDF out of the quandary: even with the specious legal wrangling over a re-run over, it’s still possible for the EPRDF to legally realize fresh elections within the coming six months. What is needed is only the political will—really the will of Meles Zenawi—to dissolve the new parliament in accordance with Article 60 of the Constitution.

Here is the Constitution in its own words:

Ethiopian Constitution: Article 60

Dissolution of the House

  1. With the consent of the House, the Prime Minister may cause the dissolution of the House before the expiry of its term in order to hold new elections.

  2. The President may invite political parties to form a coalition government within one week, if the Council of Ministers of a previous coalition is dissolved because of the loss of its majority in the House. The House shall be dissolved and new elections shall be held if the political parties cannot agree to the continuation of the previous coalition or to form a new majority coalition.

  3. If the House is dissolved pursuant to sub-Article 1 or 2 of this Article, new elections shall be held within six months of its dissolution.

  4. The new House shall convene within thirty days of the conclusion of the elections.

  5. Following the dissolution of the House, the previous governing party of coalition of parties shall continue as a caretaker government. Beyond conducting the day to day affairs of government and organizing new elections, it may not enact new proclamations, regulations or decrees, nor may it repeal or amend any existing law. (End of Article.)

Sub Article 1 is evidently originally tailored for the enduring EPRDF strategy to hold onto power up to the last minute, and when on the verge of being overwhelmed negotiate within the confines of the Constitution. But whatever the Machiavellian intent of its framers may have been, it also gives both the PM and the EPRDF the legal framework to correct the present crisis brought about by the ridiculous margin of “victory”. They need to seize it and employ it to the advantage of the nation.

As is clearly stipulated in sub-Article 1, the PM can dissolve parliament by the consent of its majority for what ever reason he sees fit. And what better raison d'être than an election result discredited by even those who voted for the “winning” party. Only a simple majority is required for dissolution, not a two thirds super-majority. But even if the law had required a super majority, no doubt that EPRDF parliamentarians can be counted on to deliver every single vote required. Parliamentarians are expected to vote for the party line at all times. Unlike most democracies, conscience is belligerently discouraged from playing a role in how they vote. In fact, party teaching maintains that seats won under the banner the party belongs to the EPRDF; for it to use as it thinks best. A diversion is defined as a breach of contract between voter and parliamentarian. The penalty is a swift recall, as had once happened against Seye Abraha et al after their fallout with Meles Zenawi. Parliamentarians will challenge the ethos only at the certain peril of their political careers. Few will dare to tread on that path if the EPRDF leadership is to opt for a re-run. But in all likelihood, it is safe to assume that they are less than enthusiastic about joining a thoroughly discredited parliament and would welcome a fresh election that offer them some chance of being elected legitimately.

Once a vote of dissolution is carried out successfully, what will remain is fresh elections in accordance with sub-Article 3 within six months. Such an opening for the nation and the EPRDF, entirely within the legal and constitutional framework, something the EPRDF is adamant about, is what Meles should be encouraged to do by his true friends--- his true local and international friends.

The writer, Eskinder Nega, has been in and out of prison several times while he was editor of one of several newspapers shut down during the 2005 crackdown. After nearly five years in the limbo, Eskinder, his award-winning wife Serkalem Fassil, and other colleagues have yet to win government permission to return to their jobs in the publishing industry. Email: