The streets of the Ethiopian capital were lined with makeshift shrines to ex-Prime Minister Meles Zenawi where mourners gathered to pen messages of condolence to their long time leader. Meles was reported to have died of a mysterious illness in an undisclosed foreign location late Monday night.
The upper echelons of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) stressed that the country shall undergo a peaceful transition after 21 years of Meles’ rule, but an air of uncertainty persisted despite the party having made clear that Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn would be elevated to the post of acting Prime Minister.
At a press conference on Thursday, Minister for Communications, Bereket Simon announced that Mr. Desalegn would be sworn in after Meles’ funeral on September 2.
“The party has been summoned to pay its respects. The people would like sufficient time to mourn” Mr. Simon said, “There will be no business before that.”
Meles swept to power in 1991 when he overthrew the dictatorship of Colonel Mengistu Haile Miriam and had since renewed his premiership through a series of elections that were questioned by western observers and human rights groups. In a policy briefing released after Meles’ death, the International Crisis Group, said that “Ethiopia’s political system has no institutional mechanism to manage a handover of executive responsibilities or provide clear lines of communications between the government and the people.”
Analysts are unsure of the power that Mr. Hailemariam, the Acting Prime Minister, will wield in the new dispensation, with a consensus emerging that he shall serve as an interim head before a permanent successor is named.
At the press conference, Mr. Bereket appeared to lend credibility to this belief when he said that Mr. Hailemariam would continue to serve as Acting Prime Minister until the fresh round of elections in 2015.
“The succession issue has been settled for good,” said Mr. Bereket, “There is no division in our ranks in this respect.” The EPRDF dominates the Ethiopian parliament, controlling all but two of the 547 seats.