Addis Ababa (Reuters) – Ethiopia is considering introducing a two-term limit for its prime ministers in a break from its past, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said.
The ruling EPRDF coalition picked Abiy in March to replace Hailemariam Desalegn, who quit to clear the way for reforms in Africa’s second most populous nation, which has been racked by violence for the last three years.
The constitution now permits prime ministers to serve an unlimited number of terms.
Hailemariam’s predecessor Meles Zenawi, a former guerrilla commander who took power after leading the overthrow of a military government, was halfway through his fourth consecutive five-year term premier when he died in office in 2012.
“Any leader of the country will not serve in office beyond two terms following the amendment to the constitution. Seizing power for a lifetime has come to a dead end in Ethiopia,” Abiy was quoted on the state-run Ethiopian News Agency as telling a meeting of residents in the southern town of Hawassa.
The agency quoted Abiy as saying the constitution would be amended soon but gave no further details on the timeframe for the change. The next general election is due in 2020.
In Oct. 2016, Ethiopia’s ceremonial president Mulatu Teshome said discussions on term limits would take place as part of reforms.
Since replacing Hailemariam – who resigned in February amid unrest threatening the ruling coalition’s tight grip – Abiy has vowed “a new political beginning” including more democratic rights.
The country of 100 million people shares borders with volatile states including Somalia and Sudan, and fought a war with neighbouring Eritrea from 1998-2000.
The government has long been accused by rights groups of using security concerns as an excuse to stifle dissent and the media.
The government boasts that Ethiopia has had one of the fastest rates of economic growth in Africa over the past 15 years, although it remains among the poorest countries in the world.
“Since Ethiopia is in a fast track of growth, it cannot allow few individuals to remain in office for long time,” Abiy was quoted saying.
Reporting by Aaron Maasho; Writing by George Obulutsa