Wednesday, October 6, 2010

ETHIOPIA: Reshuffle ‘gives Zenawi more power’

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi appointed a new cabinet on Tuesday in a post-election reshuffle that the opposition and analysts said would further cement his position.

Meles, in power since 1991, was sworn in as prime minister by parliament on Monday after a disputed May 23 vote gave his Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and allies 545 seats in the 547-seat parliament.

A European Union observer mission criticised the election and the United States said it failed to meet international standards. Demands by opposition parties for a rerun were rejected by the Horn of Africa nation's electoral board and by its Supreme Court.

The most high-profile cabinet change was the retirement of Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin, who had been in the post for 19 years. He was replaced by former government whip and advisor to the prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, seen as a Meles loyalist. Hailemariam will also serve as deputy prime minister.

“They just changed the old horses and replaced them with the same breed,” Beyene Petros, spokesperson for the biggest opposition party, Medrek, told reporters. “People like Hailemariam are the 'yes people' who have not shown any independence or creativity. They just follow the party line.”

Other senior ministers stepping down include Minister for Trade and Industry Girma Birru and Deputy Prime Minister Addisu Legesse.

The top jobs in the finance, defence, justice, health, education, agriculture and federal affairs ministries are all unchanged. New appointees to other ministries were mostly drawn from the ranks of state ministers and senior officials.

“It seems that Meles now has more or less omnipresent power, as there seems to be no one in cabinet who has the status and experience to challenge him on policy development,” Kjetil Tronvoll, Ethiopia analyst at the International Law and Policy Institute, told Reuters.

The Mines and Energy Ministry has been split in two, with Sinkenesh Ejgu heading up the new Mines Ministry in a country being explored for deposits by foreign oil and gas companies, including Africa Oil Corporation.

Diplomats say the full European Union report on the elections will be published in mid-October.