Meles successor delay exposes Ethiopia's internal power struggleBy ARGAW ASHINE | Thursday, September 6 2012 at 09:01
In a sign of a growing internal power struggle, Ethiopia's ruling party has further delayed choosing its new leader and by extension the prime minister of the country.
Executive council members of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in a closed-door meeting Tuesday failed to agree on election procedures for the new party leader, exposing the divide among the ruling elite.
Former party leader and prime minister Meles Zenawi died in a Brussels hospital on August 20. A day later, Ethiopia's cabinet endorsed his deputy, Mr Hailemariam Desalegn, as acting prime minister and indicated that he would shortly be confirmed by parliament, a formality.
Mr Meles had been the chairman of the ruling party as well as of the powerful Tigrian People's Liberation Front (TPLF), one of the four ethnic-based parties in the coalition.
However Tuesday's meeting of the top ruling party organ appeared to contradict the Cabinet's original decision and state media have dropped references to Mr Hailemariam as prime minister-designate.
The executive council, made up of 36 members (nine from each of four coalition members), has now set a new schedule for next week to elect a new party chief in what will be a bigger meeting of 60.
The party has however sought to downplay the dispute and asked its members to continue with their normal duties.
"Within those who are in a struggle of a common goal, the installation of leadership is an easy issue as it is simply assigning a comrade who would pay huge sacrifices... and rather the focus should be on our respective duties," a party statement said.
In this session the wider leadership of 60 members (15 each from the four constituent parties) of the more powerful EPRDF council will choose a new party leader who would then be confirmed by parliament, in which it holds all but one of the 547 seats.
Key party sources said that installing Mr Hailemariam, who is also the country's Foreign Affairs minister, would be crucial for the unity of the ruling party which has more than 5 million members.
"He will be the next prime minister of the country, no doubt on that. We were in a consensus building and most of the debates were procedural rather than political differences," a party official told this reporter.
"I don't agree with the media speculation about EPRDF divisions over appointment of the new leader. We are stronger and more united than ever," he added.
But the delay exposes the behind-the-scenes posturing among the coalition partners that represent the Amhara, Tigray, Oromo and Southern Peoples.
Mr Meles' TPLF, the oldest and most powerful coalition partner, is looking to keep its 21-year stranglehold on the country's economic and security apparatus.
Mr Hailemariam, from the small Wolyta ethnic group, represents the southern part of the country and was elevated to his current positions in 2010 by Mr Meles, a Tigray.
The Oroma and Amhara parties are said to be demanding an end to the political dominance of Tigrians, who represent only about 5 per cent of the 85 million population.
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Beyond the ballot