Ethiopia: Prime Minister Moves To Stabilise Polity

Some 7,500 pardoned prisoners were allowed to go home last weekend.

The new Ethiopian government of Dr Abiy Ahmed on May 25, 2018 ordered the release of over 7,500 pardoned prisoners in Oromia State, bringing the total of those released there in the last year to more than 30,000, the BBC reported. Those freed over the weekend were not found guilty of murder, rape or corruption, Taye Dendea, a local justice official explained.

Ethiopia has been hit by a wave of political unrest in the last three years, with the authorities dropping cases against thousands of prisoners in the past year, including high-profile opposition leaders. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office on April 2, 2018, promising to quell the protests. An ethnic Oromo, Abiy, 41, belongs to this nationality that has been protesting most loudly and makes up about a third of Ethiopia’s 105 million population.

In his inaugural speech to Parliament this month, the PM apologised for recent loss of life, promised to engage opponents and open up to democratic reform, tackle corruption and ensure that the state and citizens respect the law. He appealed for national unity and reconciliation, offering an olive branch to Eritrea, Ethiopia’s northern neighbour with whom the country has been in a constant state of near war.

After three years of turbulence, including large-scale anti-government protests, Abiy Ahmed undertook a nationwide reconciliation tour in the first month of his premiership. He visited the Ethio-Somali, Oromia, Tigray, Amhara and Southern Nations regions, delivering a message of forgiveness and unity in three languages, Afaan Oromo, Tigrigna and Amharic. In addition, the PM’s first government is carefully balanced, taking into account existing institutional and ethnic dynamics.

The new administration has also embarked on several reforms such as closing the infamous Maekelawi Prison, restoring mobile internet in the regions, releasing thousands of political prisoners, and allowing opposition leaders to travel and including them in reform discussions.

Local elections have been delayed until September to give the government time to settle down, lift the state of emergency and implement electoral changes. Parliament has already agreed to reforms on the autonomy of the election board, election management practices and the inclusion of inclusion of partial proportional representation.

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