July 8 (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s long-serving Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said on Wednesday he was looking forward to relaxing after a retirement from power that he hopes will be agreed soon with his ruling party.
So who might replace him? Following are the three names most widely touted, and a summary of main opposition figures:
Physicist Seyoum has been Ethiopia’s foreign minister since Meles came to power in 1991. Fiercely loyal to the prime minister, he used his weight as a well-regarded former rebel fighter to help Meles purge their Tigryan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of dissidents in 2001.
Respected for his skill as an international negotiator, he is considered a contender by the Addis Ababa diplomatic community.
Trade Minister Girma may prove the perfect compromise candidate. Despite making up only 6 percent of the population, the Tigryan ethnic group, of which Meles is a member, dominate Ethiopia’s political establishment.
The Amhara ethnic group have traditionally ruled the country and are likely to lobby for one of their ruling party members to take over should Meles resign.
Girma is an Oromo — an ethnic group which, though Ethiopia’s largest in number, have never held power.
Educated in Britain, Tewodros has been health minister since 2005 and has a string of achievements under his belt — including a significant reduction in Ethiopia’s child mortality rate — that have won him international respect.
The opposition is unlikely to win elections due for 2010. Its leaders were jailed after Meles blamed them for street violence after a disputed 2005 poll and they have made little impact since their release in a 2007 pardon deal.
They say that is because of government harassment but Meles denies that. Some of their key figures are:
The charismatic former judge leads the Unity for Democracy and Justice party. She was imprisoned in December after the government said she violated the terms of the 2007 pardon. Meles says there is no chance she will be freed before the 2010 poll.
Once nicknamed the “TPLF’s Strongman”, Seye was defence minister from 1991 to 1995. He fell out with Meles in 2000 and was jailed for corruption. He insists his imprisonment was politically motivated. Recently released, he is involved in a coalition of opposition groups going up against the government in 2010.
Berhanu is an economist who was elected mayor of Addis Ababa in the 2005 election then jailed shortly after. He fled to the United States after his release where he formed “May 15th”, an organisation named after the date of that poll. The government says Berhanu planned a recent plot to overthrow it and has charged 32 men it says were receiving money from him to buy weapons and bombs. He says the accusations are fabricated. (Reporting by Barry Malone, Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)