Rumours mounted earlier this week about alleged death of the republic’s head of state,
President Girma Woldegiorgis.
The 88 year old president is going through routine health checkups, the palace administration said earlier this week.
The elderly president was admitted last week to a local hospital and later was flown to Saudi Arabia leading to speculations about the extent of his health status.
The president was expected to be back to Addis Ababa on Friday, according to officials.
The erroneous news of the president’s death that circulated throughout social media during the week, sparked discussion about what the federal government’s next move would be if indeed the president dies.
Preceded by Dr. Negasso Gidada and elected on 8 October, 2001, President Girma served the country for the last 11 years and will have to retire next year as per the constitutional cap of the two six-year terms.
When the president retires next year or, God forbid, he dies before that, lawmakers will have to pick a new head of state. The post holds mainly ceremonial powers. Either way however, the passage of Girma will alter the country’s political landscape, according to analysts.
The current House of Peoples’ Representatives enacted in 2010 has only one independent MP who can potentially be president unless the nominee comes outside the House unlike the last two Heads of State.
The independent MP, Dr. Asheber Woldegiorgis, won his seat in 2010 running against Prime Minister Meles Zenaw’s senior aide. Thus awarding keys of the Minilik palace to dentist turned lawmaker Dr. Asheber may not be an ideal choice for PM Meles.
Naming a new president would also mean Azeb Mesfin, the increasingly powerful First Lady, will have to give up her role which, according to experts in the Foreign Affairs Ministry, she only assumed because the president remained single during his time in office.
Who will be the next President?
Ethiopia’s law indicates that a joint congress of both the House of Peoples’ Representatives and a two thirds majority in the House of Federation elects the president. There is no illusion however that whoever PM Meles decides to present, the two houses will do anything to endorse the nominee.
The former Ethiopian Football Federation President Dr. Asheber had a rather lengthy and controversial divorce from his former post; pundits were stunned to see him in parliament. Still there is a growing speculation that the dentist’s next stop could be at the national palace; a possibility that could be entertained if Dr. Asheber was one of those low key campaigners who pulled out a surprise win. He actually ran famously against the Prime Minister’s senior aide, former Head of the Prime Minister Office and Cabinet Affairs Minister Berhanu Adelo who the MP accused of many things, even of drinking too much.
If Meles, as ruling party affiliated newspapers are claiming, is planing to step down by 2015 and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Hailemariam Desalegn is to succeed him, Dr. Asheber may not be the next president.
Having Hailemariam and Dr. Asheber, both from the Southern region, at the top of the federal government may appear too unbalanced for the ruling party elites that have always claimed the nation’s ethnic makeup is reflected in senior federal government posts.
But has the EPRDF fallen into a trap? Does the constitution force the next House to elect Dr. Asheber as he is the only independent MP?
Asmelash W/Selassie, chairman of the Legal & Administrative Affairs Standing Committee of the federal parliament, says that is not the case.
“It so happens that the serving president was an independent MP who met the required criteria and was elected, but this doesn’t mean that one has to be an independent MP to be selected for the post, that is not what the constitution says,” MP Asmelash explained to Capital in an interview.
“As per the constitution anyone [MP or not] can be elected to the presidency as long as they meet the criteria. And if they are an MP they have to give up their seat upon election.”
“It is stipulated clearly in the constitution [we can refer article 70 of the constitution] that even those who are party affiliated MPs can be elected to the post. However, what will be required of them is once they are elected they give up their seat and will work being free and impartial from any political allegiance to any political party,” Asmelash further elaborated.
The approach for party members could well be leaving their party totally. “The procedure is very common; it is applied to various other appointments as well. For example someone who was a member or supporter of any political group gives up that to become a judge,” Asmelash said.
Such changes, leaving a political group for a high post appointment, have been witnessed before. One former ERPDF member became chief ombudsman – a position that too bans anyone from having any political allegiance.
As per the constitution and the joint Houses rules of procedure and regulation, it is the House of Peoples’ that elect a nominee for the presidency.
Any member of the House can nominate any person as a candidate for the nominee, according to one legal expert.
The nomination has to be seconded by another MP before they are accepted and deliberations on his life and work experience begin.
Among such candidates, the one that receives a majority of votes in the House will be a nominee. The setback here is such deliberation of the House will be in a closed session and there is no way of finding out who the candidates were.
To be considered a candidate a person needs to be Ethiopian, age above 21, with a distinguished personality and pledge to be non-partisan. So this leaves the field open to those wishing to replace the aged Girma eventually.