EPRDF chooses Hailemriam Desalegn and Demeke Mekonnen as chair and vice chair

By William Davison

ADDIS ABABA (Bloomberg) — Ethiopia’s ruling party, EPRDF, confirmed acting Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn as the successor to the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

Meles, who led Ethiopia for 21 years and who oversaw one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies, died on Aug. 20 from an infection contracted while he was recovering from an undisclosed illness. Hailemariam, Meles’s deputy in the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front and a former foreign minister, took over in an acting capacity the next day.

“Out of three candidates, Hailemariam has got the unanimous vote of council members and will serve as chairman of EPRDF and Demeke Mekonen will serve as well as deputy chairperson of EPRDF,” Communications Minister Bereket Simon said in the capital, Addis Ababa. “Whoever’s elected as chair and deputy chair of party will automatically be the nominees for the premiership and deputy premiership. So both Mr. Hailemariam and Mr. Demeke will represent the party and be candidates and be presented to parliament for approval when it starts its formal session in early October.”

Ethiopia, the continent’s second-most populous nation, is a key U.S. ally in its battle against al-Qaeda in the region. Ethiopian troops in December invaded Somalia for the second time in four years to join the battle against al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s Somalia affiliate.

The federal parliament, which has only one opposition lawmaker out of 547, is expected to swear in Hailemariam on Oct. 8, Bereket said.

At Meles’s funeral on Sept. 2, Hailemariam vowed to continue with his state-led development model that channeled loans, aid, investment and domestic revenue into infrastructure, industry and public services. The result was growth that averaged 10 percent in the past eight years, according to the government.

Human-rights groups criticized the government for cracking down on civil liberties and introducing anti-terrorism laws in 2009 that have been used to jail opposition politicians and journalists.

The EPRDF is a coalition of four parties representing the Amhara people, the Oromo, the Tigray and a collection of southern groups. Meles was leader of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which led the ouster of a military junta in 1991, while Hailemariam hails from the southern bloc. His deputy is from the Amhara National Democratic Movement.

The EPRDF’s council, which has 45 representatives from each bloc, chose Meles’s successor from the 36-member executive committee of the party. Ethiopia’s next parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2015.