Leaders of the National . . .

Oct 3 , 2020

It is seen as an attempt to sugar-coat the multiple problems the Board and its leaders find themselves in, unable to hold the national elections according to the traditional timeline, claims gossip.

Leaders of the National Election Board are in a charm offensive mood, of a sort. Last week, they organised a rare tour for members of the media, showcasing what polling stations will look like during the upcoming national elections; and they took the pain of comparing it with the type of polls that have been used during the last five elections, gossip observed.

It is seen as an attempt to sugar-coat the multiple problems the Board and its leaders find themselves in, unable to hold the national elections according to the traditional timeline, claims gossip. Birtukan Mideksa, chairperson of the Board, and her team were taken by surprise when the administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) made a U-turn from an earlier position, thereby signaling elections are due in a short while.

Lia Tadesse (MD), his Health minister, reported to parliament it is after all possible to hold elections despite surging cases of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), the raison d’etrefor its postponement, for the second time. But how soon will the elections be held, not even Birtukan and her team appear to have an idea before the administration set the agenda on its own accord, claims gossip.

It is not the first time Birtukan has been displeased with the unwarranted actions of the administration. The Prime Minister once told parliamentarians that he had heated arguments with her on the phone over the issue of postponing the elections, because he believed she would make such a decision since the political parties she supports were not ready. Many had thought that such an expression of lack of confidence over her impartiality pronounced in public would have led her to resign. She stayed on.

Birtukan’s resignation from the Board has not been without frustration, according to gossip. She presides over a Board of five that is bitterly divided over several issues, including whether or not to postpone the elections. It is Bizuwork Ketete, a governance programme manager at the Irish Embassy before her appointment in June 2019, who plays the balancing act in the frequent gridlock between Birtukan and her deputy, Wubishet Adele, on the one hand, and Abera Degefu and Getahun Kassa (PhD), on the other, gossip disclosed.

It was hardly surprising when last week the resignation of Getahun from the Board hit the airwaves and the blogospheres. He has been contemplating his resignation for a couple of months, unable to get an audience with the Prime Minister, despite several attempts, gossip revealed. The Board is accountable to parliament, hence it was deemed inappropriate for him to seek redress for his misgivings of the chairperson from the executive branch, according to gossip.

With one fierce opponent from within ousted, Birtukan may feel at ease to push her way in the Board, spared continued irritations from Abera, claims gossip. Nonetheless, she will have to find a replacement for the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Board’s Secretariat, Habtamu Wudineh, who was pushed out recently, gossip revealed. Despite his good pay from a well-meaning international organisation, Birtukan has had a frosty relationship with him, questioning whether he is up to the job.

Conducting national elections after training 1,000 trainers who in turn will train 150,000 electoral officials within the shortest time possible will not be an easy task. Partly, it was the risk to public health in going through this task that led the Board to declare its inability to hold the elections according to the initial schedule.

As if this was not a sufficient challenge to the Board, the Prosperitians are plotting to change the rules of the electoral engagement in the middle of the race, gossip disclosed. The electoral law was revised in February 2019 and should have had 10 years of shelf life. Since 2016 the EPRDFites were trying to revise it again, determined to introduce a hybrid of first-past-the-post and proportional representation. Despite their advancement in negotiating the revised law with the opposition outside parliament, the change that propelled Abiy to power brought a new set of individuals in charge of revising the law, gossip recalled. They abandoned the hybrid model when they pronounced the electoral law a year and a half ago. Now Prosperitians are hell-bent to bring back the hybrid system, hence there is too much on Birtukan’s plate, gossip disclosed.

It will be hardly surprising if she follows Getahun's path, since the level of despair she might feel is building up by the day, gossip anticipates.

PUBLISHED ON Oct 03,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1066]

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