Ethiopia’s ruling party, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPDRF), has named acting Prime Minister Haile Mariam Desalegn as its new chairman and leader after the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenwai last month.

Mr. Haile Mariam (47) will be sworn in as Prime Minister when Parliament convenes next month, said Minister for Communications Bereket Simon at a press conference on Saturday. Education Minister Demeke Mekonen will be Deputy Prime Minister and deputy chairman of the EPRDF.

The EPRDF is a coalition of four ethnic factions — the Amharas, Oromos, Tigrayans and South Peoples’ — that has ruled Ethiopia since 1991, when Meles overthrew the military dictatorship of Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam. Thereafter, Meles and the EPRDF steadily consolidated power — often by crushing dissent and imprisoning or exiling their opponents — even as they transformed Ethiopia into one of the fastest growing economies in Africa. Meles died last month after 21 years in office; the EPRDF controls all but one of the 547 seats in the national Parliament.

While Meles was from the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front which represents the small but very powerful Tigrayan ethnic faction from the north Ethiopian region, Prime Minister-elect Mr. Haile Mariam is from the South Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement. His deputy, Mr. Demeke, is from the Amhara National Democratic Movement. It is unclear how the existing power structure will accommodate the political aspirations of the Oromos, who make up a majority of the population.

“The baton has been passed on to the new generation of the EPRDF, but in essence there shall be continuity,” said Mr. Bereket, distinguishing between the previous generation of leaders such as Meles, who participated in the struggle to overthrow Mengistu’s regime, and younger leaders like Mr. Haile Mariam and Mr. Demeke.

Signalling that the coalition was striving for a stable and smooth power transition, Mr. Bereket said Mr. Haile Mariam and Mr. Demeke would lead the party into the next general elections in 2015. “We as the party have decided that they will go the full term,” Mr. Bereket said, adding “Our party constitution allows us two terms for electing persons,” indicating that Mr. Haile Mariam could possibly be in power till 2020.

Keywords: Meles ZenwaiEPRDF

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