By intervening post-election, the federal government would be doing nothing to slow the spread of COVID-19, which was the official reason for delaying all polls.

I n June, the House of Federation, in a controversial process, interpreted Ethiopia’s constitution to authorize the continuation of all incumbent governments across the federation beyond their constitutional term limits.

Tigray region opposed the postponements.

As a result, despite rejection and warnings by the National Electoral Board and the House of Federation (HoF), the region continued preparation for an election for its State Council.

Leaders of the Inter-Religious Council and Elders Consultative Forum of Ethiopia, International Crisis Group, and scholars have recommended peaceful settlement of the ongoing election related dispute between the Federal Government and Tigray Region. I subscribe to this suggestion.

However, as per Article 62(9) of Ethiopia’s constitution, federal intervention is due when a member state of the federation, in violation of this constitution, endangers the constitutional order.

Thus, if Tigray proceeds with its election, unless the central government tolerates endangering the constitutional order, some form of federal intervention is inevitable.

The federal government seems to have reserved federal intervention as a post-election alternative. Be it before or after election, federal intervention which, according to the law, might include deploying force by the federal government, would be highly destructive, rendering it perhaps more harmful than increased COVID-19 spread due to election activities in Tigray. This week, Tigray’s government sternly advised the HoF against intervening in its self-determination exercise ahead of a meeting of the upper house.

Regardless, if federal intervention is inevitable, pre-election intervention would have been more justified than post-election intervention.

This is because the very process of preparation for the election in defiance of the decision of the HoF contravenes the constitution. So, the ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the government in Tigray are already in breach of the constitution, satisfying preconditions for federal intervention.

Furthermore, if the whole purpose of postponement of national and regional elections is to protect the public from COVID-19, this purpose would have been served by early intervention that stopped risky election-related activities.

Seen from this perspective, any post-election intervention would be too late to be justified.

In a meeting held on 29 July 2020, where Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed discussed current issues with representatives of political parties, one of the Tigrayan opposition leaders, Aregawi Berhe, worried by Tigray’s move, asked the Prime Minster about the federal government’s responsibility to stop Tigray’s ongoing election preparations.

The prime minster dismissed what the region is doing in the name of election as a drama that does not have any semblance of “election” in the proper sense of the term. But he told the participants that the federal government would not see a problem with “election” results if TPLF was re-elected. This is because, Abiy noted, the drama would not have the effect of contravening the HoF decision, which mandated TPLF to stay in power.

According to the prime minister, the federal government would see the regional election as problematic requiring the federal government’s attention only if it resulted in a new ruling party replacing the TPLF.

It is very likely that TPLF will win the election. However, that does not necessarily mean that the post-election regional government would be considered lawful by HoF.

First, as the number of parliamentary seats in the Tigray State Council has been increased by 20 percent through a recent constitutional amendment, the election will change the composition of that legislature.

Second, even if TPLF wins, there is a possibility for members of the incumbent council to be replaced by other members of TPLF. For these reasons the post-election regional law-making body would not be the same as the incumbent that the HoF ruled should remain in power.

Thus, even if we follow the prime minister’s outcome-oriented approach, federal intervention is unavoidable.

In the event that federal intervention would not be implemented immediately after the regional election in Tigray because TPLF, despite changes in the State Council, continues to be in power and the federal government prefers to live with this, that would not necessarily mean avoiding, but only postponing, federal intervention.

This is because according to the HoF decision, the postponed election is to be conducted both at federal and regional levels anytime where the pandemic sufficiently subsides. When that occurs, the National Electoral Board would resume its activities to conduct federal and regional elections, including in Tigray.

The federal government would be expected to ensure that elections would be conducted in Tigray not only because it does not recognize the impending election: there are also opposition parties, such as Arena, whose base is Tigray, that are not participating in the upcoming poll.

Furthermore, the National Movement of Amhara has already raised a separate challenge to the election in Tigray regarding disputed territories of the districts of Welkait, Humera, Tegede and Telemte (Amharic transliterations) in West Tigray and North West Tigray Zones, as well as the Raya-Akobo area in South Tigray Zone, claiming that it has interest to run for election in these territories. These parties have a legitimate demand for elections to be conducted in Tigray when health conditions allow and for them to participate.

While the federal government cannot ignore this demand for elections to be conducted in Tigray at the same time as the rest of the federation, as things stand, it would face strong resistance from Tigray. As far as the latter is concerned, the result of the impending poll would be valid for five years. Thus, Tigray is unlikely to cooperate with the National Electoral Board for a post-COVID election in the region.

This would result in a confrontation with the federal government that would be likely to trigger federal intervention.

The prime minister, in his  7 May video statement, noted “unconstitutional attempts to undertake illegal elections will result in harm to the country and the people.” In the same statement, he made it clear that “the government will be forced to take any measures to assure the safety of the people and the country”, apparently without waiting for the result of the election.

The prime minister’s former spokesperson Nigusu Tilahun later reiterated  that the federal government would enforce its election-postponement decision, implying action to prevent Tigray’s poll. Now, it appears too late for that.

The prime minister’s focus, in his recent statement, on whether the election in Tigray would result in replacing TPLF by another party therefore amounts to walking back his earlier position. More importantly, it loses sight of the core purpose of election postponement.  Officially, elections were postponed because the process would entail activities incompatible with slowing the spread of the virus.

Postponement of elections aims at preventing activities that catalyze the spread of the virus and go against the COVID-19-prompted state of emergency.

It follows that it is these activities associated with the election process that would increase the virus’ spread—not whether TPLF remains in power—that should be the primary federal concern. In theory, by reserving federal intervention as a post-election alternative, the people of Tigray would be the victim of the likely increased spread of the coronavirus.

Moreover, in the absence of border restrictions and quarantine system among inter-regional travellers, in due course, the impact of the virus could be felt nationwide. As such, the election in Tigray would have a national public health consequence that might end up in making postponement of elections in other parts of the country arguably pointless sacrifice of democratic rights.

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Main photo: Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed with Tigray’s acting president Debretsion Gebremichael

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About the author

Wondwossen Demissie Kassa

Wondwossen (PhD) is a faculty member at the Addis Ababa University Law School. Contact him at wondwossend@yahoo.com

20 Comments

  • Apparently, the author’s analysis should be taken seriously by the federal government. In view of defending constitutional order and preventing the spread of the virus any intervention after Tigray has voted would not be justified. However, as it was impossible to stop TPLF from doing this blunder or stooping it would have been costly, the Federal government shall consider other steps that would make TPLF to regret its decision.

  • The piece is well written and hits the mark. Whether the Federal government will allow the unacceptable president is anyone’s guess. Given the inevitability of the Federal government’s intervention pre or post election, it is timely to intervene before the election happens as the author outlined.

    The TPLF old guard thugs, who are still lingering in power since the seventies, are planning to do everything to breakup and destroy Ethiopia. What is sad is the innocent youth of Tigray that are being led war like a Hurd of sheep.

    Some mentally deranged TPLF fanatics talk about how many youth lost their lives during the 17 years fight with the Derg regime. Sadly, these idiots forget that the majority of the youth were actually killed by the existing TPLF old guards. These old blood sucker TPLF old guard beasts are preparing the Tigrian youth for war against the rest of Ethiopia while their own children are enjoying life in Europe and America. The Tigrain youth must heed what happened to their older brothers and sisters who were misled by the same old beasts. At least 120,000 of the war veterans have been dismissed from service and are suffering from hanger and their permanent disability.

    Mothers who lost 5 children have been suffering helplessly at the hands of the TPLF cadres in every village of the Tigray region. The people of Tigray never benefitted from TPLF, the private company of Sebhat Nega. How many Tigray youth should lose their lives before the Tigray people can know their enemy?

    BTW, I lost my cousin during the 17 -year war and I am from Mahony, Raya, Ethiopia.

    • WF – Your choice of words and animosity towards TPLF sounds more pathological than political. Words like thugs, fascists, etc. are expressions of mutual recrimination in the extreme. In any case, regarding intervention and those who were itching for it, the HoF today announced that it does not endorse intervention.

      • Kudus Yared,
        This website is for sane intellectuals. I don’t think you will find a Psychiatrist here. As I told you last time you are damaged beyond repair. God help you, man.

        • WF – you say, this website is for sane intellectuals. It is quite pretentious of you, but I am not surprised, and I will leave it at that.

  • “Aksumawit T
    September 4, 2020 at 11:41 am
    I don’t know why Amhara intellectuals are wasting their time writing about elections in Tigray while there are other big concerns to the security & stability of Ethiopia as a country for the up coming future.believe it or not unless Abiy is removed from power there will not be sustainable peace in Ethiopia because he is not competent to hold the position.”

    You do not understand, do you. Whether Abiy or somebody else is in power, the future Ethiopia will hold all criminals, including ones hiding in Tigray, accountable before the law. Stolen and plundered resources will be made public per independent and verifiable audits, criminals that need to go to jail will go to jail. Those responsible for orchestrating and financing crimes against humanity will be brought to justice, The long arm of the law will be felt loud and clear. Make sure that is well understood.

    • Axumawit

      Their reasoning is overshadowed by hate and can not see behind what he is suggesting. They are hill bent to see the distraction of Tigray and its people. He is one of
      Warmongers trying use nations and nationalities to fight for him . the country is in brink of disintegration not because of Abby or kero or anyone else but because of the greedy Amhara .

  • TPLF cadres and its leaders, including Meles Zenawi, have not even grasped the very basics of federalism in nearly 30 years of their manipulation and corruption of Ethiopian history and politics. The “ethnic federalism” promulgated by TPLF and forced upon the Ethiopian people, is an oxymoron coined by TPLF political opportunists. It was a facade pulled before the entire world that was used to steal state properties, wealth and resources and concentrate it in the hands of a few ethnic hardliners. They used ethnic demarcations and pitted one poor Ethiopian against another, including the patriotic and hardworking Ethiopians living in Tigray, to amass ill begotten wealth. They destroyed a meritocratic system of appointment to important economic sectors, the little that there was, and replaced it with nepotistic, exploitative, clan and sub-clan cliques of thieves. Their lack of intellectual integrity is only matched with their stupidity in failing to see the extensive damage they have caused in the civil service. A developing nation needs its technocratic workforce shielded from this type of political demagoguery to bring meaningful and lasting changes to its citizens. The moral corruption and decay of TPLF is observed in the nearly total destruction of professionalism and annihilation of meritocracy during TPLF era, that continues to this day.

    The claim of regional independence and commitment to follow the constitution and carry out the election blah… blah are all political games and theaters of absurdity. This is coming from a group that in the past has been claiming winning 99% of seats (a farcical and statistical anomaly). A regional election not recognized by the federal election board cannot be constitutional , and its outcome therefore will be meaningless. The fact that it was carried under duress, political intimidation, elimination of true competitors, transparency, and representative democracy marks it as the true legacy of TPLF-intellectuals bankruptcy, political demagoguery, moral corruption, decay of ethics and final oblivion to the ashes of history.

  • While each side has its own interpretation and understanding of the constitution, the crisis between Abiy and TPLF is very much political, and the political antagonism has been running for two years. It did not have to be like that, but Abiy chose a path of disparagement and defamation of TPLF, acts of vengence in the form of political prosecution and displacement, and mass media frenzy of vilificartion. When Abiy formed PP and TPLF refused to dissolve itself and merge into PP, this was followed by threats of economic and other measures against TPLF and Tigray region. Road closures and Amhara / Tigray region is an on-going tension. In the meantime, the “peace” with Eritrea has become Abiy/Isaias alliance that excludes TPLF / Tigray. There are now reports about Ethiopian migrants in Saudi Arabia being held in squalid conditions, most of the migrants are thought to be from Tigray, and the Saudis are saying the Ethiopian government refused to repatriate them. With all these political situations directed at Tigray, the choice for TPLF / Tigray has become this: to fold and accept subordination, or to take a stand for federalism and regional rights of self-rule. TPLF/Tigray has chosen to take a stand for regional rights and federalism.

  • One thing the federal government does not know is Tigray had been divided since Abay Woldu was removed from power without a fair election. That is why it is highly important for Tigray to hold a fair election ASAP. Tigray can not wait any longer because the division is creating too many societal , economical and political problems.

    • Tirfu,
      Is the risk of going to war worth taking compared to managing the fracture of TPLF? I know your husband was dishonorably removed from his position. Just so you remember, it was your husband who forcibly imposed the Tigrigna language on the children of 611 villages in Raya and linguistically crippled them. You and your husband as TPLF members have your share to blame. Apologize and come clean. If not, just stop saying about issues related to Ethiopia and enjoy your retirement. By the way how is life in Australia treating you?

  • The National Movement of Amhara “has interest” in running for election in “disputed” territories seems to suggest that the land forcibly incorporated to Tigray is an election issue.

    Welkait, Tsegede and Raya is not an election issue it is a survival issue a land grab issue.

    With forced election on the stolen land of Gonder and Wello TPLF is conducting referendum for future Tigray Republic. A military conflict is certain with the locals on those areas and this is not about non Tigrean Party not running for election as the writer suggests.

    De Facto Tigray Republic i will also restart a military conflict with Eritrea.

    TPLF old guards are holding the people of Tigray as hostage and it is upto the people to stand for Tigray against TPLF !!

  • It is our inevitable right to elect our leader’s which comes at the cost 60,000 death and 100,000 disability.I can assure you that even we are ready to pay more than that but the ultimate result will be independent country

    • Hiluf,
      The TPLF old guards killed more than 50% of the Tigrian youth. Don’t be bamboozled by these blood thirsty beasts. They sent their own children to the best schools in Europe and America. They are egging on other Tigray youth to go to war with the rest of Ethiopia. If you cannot ask where Abay Tsehaye and Sebhat Nega’s children, have your head examined and try again. Good luck!

  • There was a good reason for not intrerving…. It would have expedited the demise of Ethiopia built in the image of Amhara. It helps to know who you are dealing with. Remember we Tigrians destroyed the largest army in sub sahara Africa. Concern yourself with what is happening in lowless Amhara and invasion of emboche.

    • Delusionary and idiotic. Your tatered army never won a single war ever! Thanks to Shabiya and The Ethiopian majority who did tired of the Dirg’s dictatorial regime. You believe your false tale about your mighty ethnic thugers! Your xenophobic type of people will never and ever rob, corrupt and misuse of public resoutces herein after.

    • Derg was falling down regardless of TPLF or not. It was in 1991 the Soviet union collapsed and Derg lost its military support. And if you wish for the “demise of Ethiopia…”, we kindly ask you to pack up, leave, and found your nation that you keep talking of. Ethiopia will remain and you will come back as a refugee.

  • I don’t know why Amhara intellectuals are wasting their time writing about elections in Tigray while there are other big concerns to the security & stability of Ethiopia as a country for the up coming future.believe it or not unless Abiy is removed from power there will not be sustainable peace in Ethiopia because he is not competent to hold the position.

    • Aksumawit,
      Abby is the best that TPLF could ask for. Can you imagine what could have happened to TPLF if it was someone else was in power? I think none of them could have left Addis and they would have been facing the music at this time. So, be thankful that Abiy is the PM at this time.

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