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The Ethiopian constitution acknowledges two federal houses – the House of Peoples’ Representatives and the House of the Federation. Members of the former are elected by the people for a term of five years oin the basis of universal suffrage and by direct, free and fair elections held by secret ballot, according to the constitution. Members of the house shall be elected from candidates in each electoral district by a plurality of the votes cast. “Provision shall be made by law for special representation for minority Nationalities and Peoples,” reads the constitution. These members, who are representatives of the people of the country as a whole, are governed by the constitution, the will of the people and their conscience of course. The constitution says no members of the house may be prosecuted on account of any vote they cast or they express in the house, nor shall any administrative action be taken against any members on such grounds.
They have the right not to be arrested or prosecuted without the permission of the house. A member of the house may, in accordance with the law, lose their mandate of representation upon loss of confidence by the electorate, though. Article 55 of the constitution gives the house the power of legislation in all matters assigned by the constitution to the Federal jurisdiction. They therefore can enact specific laws including utilization of land and other natural resources, of rivers and lakes crossing the boundaries of the national territorial jurisdiction or linking two or more states, inter-state commerce and foreign trade, air, rail, water and sea transport, major roads linking two or more states, postal and telecommunication services, enforcement of the political right established by the constitution and electoral laws and procedures, nationality, immigration, passport, exit from and entry into the country, right of refugees and of asylum, uniform and standards of measurements and calendar, patents and copyrights, the possession and bearings of arms. The house also shall enact labour code, commercial code, panel code [except matters that are not left to states], and civil laws. It also shall determine the organization of national defence, public security, and a national police force, with mandate to carryout investigations and measures if they infringes upon human rights and the nation’s security, among others.
Declaring state of emergency, proclaiming a state of war, approving general policies and strategies of economic, social and development, and fiscal and monetary policy, levying taxes and duties on revenue sources, ratifying the federal budget, international agreements, approving appointments of federal judges, members of council of ministers, commissioners, the audit general, and other officials are among the powers given to the house.
The current parliament is composed of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), with its affiliate parties including the Afar People Democratic Party (APDP), Gambela People Democratic Movement (GPDM), Somali People Democratic Party (SPDP), Harari National Front (HNL) and Benishangul Gumuz People Democratic Unity Front (BGPDUF). The former occupies 545 of 547 seats of the current parliament that started operation in September 2010, and ends July 2015. The rest are filled with only one private and one opposition runners, the latter being from the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD).
Relatively, the parliament had more private and opposition runners in the previous three tenures. In the parliament that ruled from 1995-2000, there were four MPs from the opposition camp and eight MPs who ran privately. The parliaments that ran from 2001-2005 involved 10 opposition and 13 private runners for five years. In 2006, the highest opposition runners’ to-date had joined the parliament. The number of opposition camp MPs was 136 while the number of private runners was only one.
Looking at the limitations of the previous parliaments in addressing issues, political experts stated their fear about the current parliament. They feared that the current parliament, as it is just a collection of people from one ideology, would be more silent than it was previously.
Their fear has come true, as this parliament is not as challenging as it should be when it is nearing its mid-term.
“I have never seen a parliament like this, that don’t challenge very well,” said a 48-years old history teacher at one of the governmental schools in Addis. He believes that the MPs, except the only opposition camp representative-Girma Seifu – are not bothered about challenging policies and regulations while endorsing them. “They raise their hands whenever their party leaders asked them to,” said another person interested in parliamentary issues. She said she lost her enthusiasm for issues of parliaments and politics as a whole.”
However, the parliament has changed in the last six months or so, according to her. She said she watched many sessions, especially in the last couple of months where she saw many MPs challenging even the most feared political figures at EPRDF. That is a good start for her, though she hasn’t seen a major decision shift because of that. She said she’s even impressed how lately MPs describe issues and bring in instances to their arguments. “Aren’t these the ones who just sat, laughed and clapped for the last two years?” She asked. She isn’t sure why the parliament has dramatically changed. “I am not sure whether the absence of former PM Meles Zenawi [the late prime minister] has contributed to this. I don’t know very much about the making of the ruling party,” she told Capital.
This, for many, is arguable however. Because they believe the parliament has changed nothing up until the end of this year’s session. “I haven’t seen anything different in terms of endorsing whatsoever came to it; only one person is crying in the crowd,” said a journalist who covered most of the sessions of the parliament.
“It was neither able to include almost 2 million people in the budget nor defend its member from revocation of his immunity even at the end of the session,” one of the people who spoke to Capital said. These are obviously pessimistic about the improvement of the parliament in the upcoming year.
The lady though is hopeful that this parliament will contribute a lot if the current inspiration and commitment is going to improve for the next two years. “This is if and only if the EPRDF officials are not going to do something that cripples their commitment and inspiration,” she said. “Officials should work their part and let the parliament do its job rather than failing to do their part and putting their long-hands to the mouths of the MPs.”