The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia has announced that it will be unable to conduct the 2020 national elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Subsequently, the House of Peoples’ Representatives approved the election postponement. According to the constitution, the term of office of government is five years, which means that the current government’s constitutional mandate will come to an end on 10 October 2020. With that in mind, the government has tabled four proposals as potential remedies to manage the power vacuum that would occur when its current term expires on October 10. After a careful and considered review of the proposed alternatives, we, the undersigned parties, issue the following statement.
- The constitution makes it clear that power should be acquired only through a periodic election conducted every five years, and the term of office of a government is strictly five years. The electoral board has announced that it will not be able to conduct the election before the current government’s term of office expires. And there is no legal basis that will allow the government to legitimately remain in power past 10 October, even for a single day.
- We have carefully reviewed the four possible solutions proposed by the government to manage what would ultimately become a constitutional crisis. We have concluded that none of the presented options provides a legal basis to extend the mandate of the current government beyond its five-year term limit in the event that the national elections, albeit due to understandable reasons, are not held on time. The constitution does not allow for the declaration of a state of emergency specifically to postpone an election or extend a government’s term. The dissolution of parliament pursuant to Article 60 only allows for an election to be held prior to the expiry of the five-year term. This article cannot be invoked to allow term extensions beyond five years. Undertaking a constitutional amendment in order to add an article or clause that would allow the postponement of an election and/or the extension of the term of office does not only negate the spirit of the constitution, but it is also a complex process that requires public debate and deliberation that cannot be undertaken during a pandemic in any meaningful way.
- The fourth option, constitutional interpretation, which is favoured by the government, is not a legal and legitimate reason to postpone the election or extend the incumbent’s term. Although the House of Federation has the power to interpret the constitution, it can only do so on disputed issues contained within the constitution. Unfortunately, the constitution does not stipulate a mechanism for the postponement of elections or extension of terms of office. Furthermore, constitutional interpretation by a legislative body overwhelmingly controlled by a single party, whose members were elected through an election that we know was rigged, amounts to imposition of the will of a single party. Hence, if anything, this option erodes the legitimacy of this government even more, rather than lending it credence.
- It is our view that, in order to collectively and effectively combat the pandemic while preparing for the election, the best and only option is to seek a national consensus among political parties in order to legitimately fill the looming power vacuum.
- We would like to strongly stress that extending the term of government by any other means lacks political or legal legitimacy and could lead to a political as well as a security crisis, which the country cannot afford at a time where it needs a unified front to overcome the multifaceted challenges posed by the pandemic.
In order to find a legitimate solution for the impasse through achieving a national consensus, we believe these principles should be put into practice:
- The deliberation and negotiation should involve all political parties that are registered and qualified to participate in the 2020 election.
- The deliberation and negotiation should be facilitated by entities who do not have direct involvement in electoral affairs and do not have a vested interest in the outcome.
- The final agreement reached by the parties should be binding.
After years of struggle and sacrifice by the Ethiopian people, it was two years ago that we embarked on a transition that we all hoped would usher in a new era of democracy. Unfortunately, negotiations and deliberations which would be vital for a successful transition were not undertaken. Consequently, as we get closer to the election, tension has begun to rise and the political space has further narrowed, dashing the hopes for a successful transition to a democratic order through a free and fair election.
The postponement of the election due to the pandemic can be used as another opportunity to seriously deliberate, correct mistakes made over the last two years and put the transition back on track. Therefore, we call upon all parties to seize this opportunity and sit for a roundtable deliberation to seek a legitimate political consensus on how to manage the constitutional crisis the country is facing. To this effect, we have prepared a detailed proposal and action plan in line with this recommendation, which we will present at the negotiation forum once it is convened upon acceptance.
Co-signing members of the Alliance for Democratic Federalism:
Oromo Liberation Front
Ogaden National Liberation Front
Oromo Federalist Congress
Agaw National Congress
Mocha Democratic Party
Kaffa Green Party
Arena Tigray for Democracy and Sovereignty
Peace, Freedom & Democracy for All Peoples!