The government’s decision to postpone the election in Tigray is “unconstitutional” and risks the provisional administration being replaced by other political parties, legal experts have told Addis Zeybe.
Last week’s decision to delay the national poll for a number of weeks will not apply to Tigray, the restive region which is under the control of an Ethiopian army. Officials have said a poll will not be held until the military ‘command post’ has handed back control of the region to civilian authorities.
The national election had been due to be initially held in August 2020. The following month, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) declared that it had won a controversial regional election. Asserting that the poll was unconstitutional, the Ethiopian House of Federation declared the election “null and void”.
In November, TPLF Forces attacked a federal military base in Tigray. The TPLF said it struck preemptively, as it claimed National Defense Forces of Ethiopia were preparing to assault Tigray. The action prompted a military incursion which is estimated to have left thousands dead and displaced more than a million people.
Now legal experts have said the move to deny Tigray voters their right to vote is unconstitutional. One expert, who declined to be named for fear of retribution, said: “We can say that the delay of the election in the region is unconstitutional because of Article 38, the right to vote and to be elected.”
Article 38 of the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia states that every Ethiopian national, without any discrimination based on color, race, nation, nationality, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion or another status, has the right to “vote and to be elected at periodic elections to any office at any level of government”.
The article adds: “Elections shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors.”
However, the constitution also states that the Council of Ministers can suspend article 38 of the constitution if a state of emergency is declared because of an external invasion or a breakdown in law and order. Tigray is under a state of emergency which means article 38 can not be enforced.
The argument rests on whether the government is right to declare an emergency and suspend article 38 with both the TPLF and the government in Addis Ababa standing firm on their respective positions.
The legal expert is calling for immediate elections in Tigray after the command post is removed. She pointed to article 61 of the constitution which states: ‘’The House of the Federation is composed of representatives of nations, nationalities, and peoples. Each nation, nationality, and people shall be represented in the House of the Federation by at least one member. Each nation or nationality shall be represented by one additional representative for each million of its population.”
Sisay Mengiste (Ph.D.), a lecturer in law and governance at Addis Ababa University, separately said the provisional administration in Tigray could be changed by whoever wins the election.
“The Tigray provisional administration could be replaced with other party personnel as per the wishes of the party that wins the election,’’ he said.
The 6th Ethiopian national election will be held with 46 political parties contesting votes to be represented in the House of Peoples’ Representatives (Parliament).
The poll dates had been planned to take place on June 5 (in nine regions, except in the Tigray region) and June 12 (in Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa cities). The elections have now been postponed for two to three weeks.
The expert suggested that the interim administration could represent the region in the house of peoples representatives, putting in mind that the election won't incorporate the region. However, if this does not happen, the public may lose its essential rights, like regional budgets.
She further noted that the ruling Prosperity Party was elected in the previous election as the EPRDF party. Thus ‘’having the provisional administration until the regional election by this party is correct’’.
Asked if one party won 100% of the vote, would the Tigray provisional administration continue as the previous elected party, the expert said that ‘’there is no clear constitutional law about such a kind situation”. She added: “Maybe the provisional administration will continue, it depends on the party that will win the election.”
Abrham Belay (Ph.D.), the head of the Tigray provisional administration, said: “Currently there is no election, so there could not be a representative in the House of Peoples’ Representatives. Until the election takes place, the provisional administration will continue too.”
Recently, the Ethiopian parliament endorsed a recent cabinet decision to classify the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which has long dominated Ethiopian politics and until recently ruled the Tigray region, as a terrorist organization.