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Who will be Ethiopia’s next prime minister?

 

Hailemariam Desalegn’s snap resignation as Ethiopia’s prime minister last week set off a dramatic chain of events in a country that has seen mass, anti-government protests for several years.

A state of emergency order soon followed the announcement, plunging Ethiopia even further into a state of political uncertainty.

As it prepares to replace Hailemariam as the head of the party, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has been buying time to figure out its next move,

In a country where the chairman of the ruling coalition has historically also taken on prime minister duties, questions continue to swirl around who could step in for Hailemariam.

But any successor will have a difficult task ahead, and appointing a new prime minister will likely not be enough to satisfy Ethiopians’ demands for greater political reforms.

“A change of guard is not what the people want,” said Tsedale Lemma, editor-in-chief of the Addis Standard newspaper.

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Instead, Ethiopians are demanding “a fundamental change” in the way the country is governed that would allow all interests to be heard and represented, she explained.

“As a country, this is not going to make so much of a difference. EPRDF is EPRDF,” she said.

“The people of Ethiopia are not requiring a change of guard, they are requiring an overall change of the government – a dynamic change, a fundamental change, [to] the way the EPRDF is considered so far.”

The decision over who will succeed Hailemariam is “vitally important”, said Hassen Hussein, a writer and Ethiopia analyst based in the United States.

He said it “could either [present] a narrow path away from the precipice, or lead [Ethiopia] right into it”.

Hailemariam, who came to power after the death of his predecessor, Meles Zenawi in 2012, said he will stay on as a caretaker prime minister until a replacement is named.

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But since “the engine of the protest movement” has been the marginalisation of the country’s largest ethno-national group, the Oromo, Hussein said that not appointing an Oromo would have a devastating effect.

“If somebody from another [ethnic] group is installed, I think people will interpret that as, ‘Well, there you go again.’ It will be deja vu,” he told Al Jazeera.

Mass anti-government protests have been ongoing in Ethiopia’s Oromia region, home to the Oromo, since 2015.

The Oromo, who make up more than 34 percent of the population, have long complained about political and economic exclusion. One of the protesters’ central demands has been for greater political representation at the national level.

The EPRDF is composed of four political parties, mainly divided along ethnic lines: the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organisation (OPDO) and the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM).

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The most prominent Oromo names being discussed to become prime minister are Lemma Megersa, president of the Oromia regional government, and his vice president, Abiy Ahmed, a leading figure in the OPDO.

On Thursday, the 81-member OPDO central committee named Ahmed as the new chairman of the party, taking over from Megersa, who will now serve as deputy chairman, the Addis Standard newspaper reported.

The move has been interpreted to mean that Ahmed will be the party’s candidate for prime minister.

Terrence Lyons, an associate professor at the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University in the US, said if someone like Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen, who is Amhara, is chosen instead, that could “add further fuel to the fire of the Oromo protests”.

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