Ethiopia’s ruling coalition has elected Abiy Ahmed as its new chairman, according to state media. The announcement on Tuesday by state broadcaster FANA means that Ahmed, who hails from the Oromo ethnic group, is now expected to succeed Hailemariam Desalegn as Ethiopia’s prime minister.
The chairman of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition has historically also taken on prime minister duties. The EPRDF and its allies control all 547 seats in Ethiopia’s parliament, which must confirm the new prime minister.
In a surprise move on February 15, Hailemariam announced that he was stepping down as both prime minister and chairman of the EPRDF.
He said at the time that he would be staying on as prime minister in a caretaker capacity, until the EPRDF named a successor.
Local news site Addis Standard reported on Tuesday that Ahmed garnered 108 out of 180 votes in a meeting by the EPRDF’s Council, which comprises 45 members each from the four political parties that make up the coalition.
Mainly divided along ethnic lines, the parties are: 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).
State of emergency
Hailemariam abrupt resignation’s prompted the government to declare a six-month state of emergency in a bid to stem political unrest amid long-standing demands for greater freedoms.
Mass protests have been going on since 2015 when anti-government demonstrations broke out among the Oromo, Ethiopia’s biggest ethnic group, and later spread to the Amhara, the second biggest group.
The protests, which initially began over land rights but later broadened to include calls for greater political representation at the national level, were met with a harsh government response.
Human rights groups hundreds of people were killed by security forces during the violence, while thousands of others were arrested.
Abiy will be the first Oromo prime minister in the 27 years EPRDF has been in power.
Last month, the 81-member OPDO central committee named Ahmed, a former minister of science and technology, as its new chairman.