Mystery of the sick and missing PM
From: AFP July 21, 2012 12:02AM
AN ILLNESS that has forced Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to
take a leave of absence has raised questions over who is running the
country in his absence, analysts said Friday.
Amid swirling rumours about Mr Meles' health, officials said on
Thursday that the 57-year-old premier was "stable", but that he has
been told to take some leave.
On paper the Meles government has fostered a policy of ethnic
federalism, devolving significant powers to regional, ethnically-based
authorities but central control remains firmly in the hands of the
The position of president is largely honorific and Mr Meles, a former
rebel fighter who has been in power for more than two decades, holds
the real political power.
According to Ethiopia's constitution, the deputy prime minister is
obliged to "act on behalf of the Prime Minister in his absence."
But the law does not specify whether the deputy takes over the
premier's full responsibilities and does not say what happens if the
prime minister is absent for a prolonged period or is no longer able
"I don't think there's any sort of contingency in place for Meles not
being in power," said Ahmed Soliman, Horn of Africa research assistant
at British think tank Chatham House.
Diplomats and analysts here say it is not clear how the government is
being run while Mr Meles, who has been in power since 1991, is away.
"We have no more information than what we are getting from (the
media)," said one diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Another diplomat said that it is not clear how much decision-making
power Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn wields.
"He is obviously subbing for the prime minister... but what the legal
position is, I don't know," the second diplomat said.
Mr Soliman said despite Mr Hailemariam's official role, the prime
minister is likely retaining control behind the scenes.
Mr Hailemariam, 47, is currently in China for a summit, but is
expected back in the country soon, according to government spokesman
Diplomats and analysts say there have been no signs of any moves so
far within the ruling party to grab power and there is no indication
of any fracture with the ruling party.
Mr Bereket said the government "system is functional and working" and
that Mr Meles remains available to senior government officials when
they need him.
He said there is no need for a long-term succession plan because Mr
Meles is expected back in office in a matter of days.
Diplomats in Brussels however said this week that Mr Meles, who was
last seen in public in June, was in hospital there in a "critical"
Ethiopian officials have not said what Mr Meles is suffering from or
where he is being treated.
Mr Meles missed an African Union summit hosted in the Ethiopian
capital last weekend, which prompted speculation over the former
Marxist rebel's health.
Mr Meles, who toppled the bloody dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam
in 1991, has said he will stand down at the end of his current term in
2015. No clear successors have been primed, but Mr Bereket told
reporters Thursday the ruling party has been saying a "new batch of
leaders should come so that they should receive the baton."
Mr Soliman said he expects the ruling party to maintain its iron grip
on the country and does not expect the party to diverge from Meles'
policies during his sick leave.
"Short term absence isn't going to change that," he said.
Received on Sat Jul 21 2012 - 20:42:12 EDT