EPRDF’s proposed electoral reforms and limited amendments on land unlikely to satisfy protesters

German chancellor Angela Merkel is received with military honours in front of the presidential palace next to Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 11 October 2016. Source: PA

Key Points

  • The proposals seek to offer a more representative electoral system and military institutions and will be spearheaded by the prime minister, but will face resistance from hardliners in the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition.
  • Amhara and Oromo opposition protests will therefore continue over the next year, with military deployments in protest-affected regions a likely trigger for further protests. The military, however, will also act as a stabilising force on the governing coalition, preventing a significant change in government.
  • The EPRDF is also likely to introduce stricter environmental compliance and labour laws, although opposition demands for reform of how land is owned and administered are unlikely to materialise and probably would not retroactively affect foreign investors.


Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced on 11 October that the government would reform electoral laws following anti-government protests in Oromo and Amhara regions since late 2015.

Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s concession of limited reform of Ethiopia’s electoral law follows an increase in violent protests and arson attacks since late 2015, including against foreign-owned commercial assets. This month, protesters conducted arson attacks against a Turkish-owned textile factory, a Nigerian-owned mine and cargo trucks, and a tourist lodge on Lake Langano. These attacks resulted in a six-month-long state of emergency being declared on 9 October. Such foreign investments are perceived to be associated by Amhara and Oromo activists with government-facilitated land grabs – one of the main grievances of protests against the Tigrayan-dominated government – and as such are regarded as legitimate targets.

The electoral reform proposal is likely to consider replacing the current first-past-the-post (FTPT) system with a mixed member proportional representation system that would seek to increase representation of non-Tigrayan parties at the next election in 2020. However, this reform would not immediately alter the perception of opposition groups that Tigrayans dominate political decision-making within the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition.

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