Failed Ethiopian power grab causes discord

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A failed regional coup in Ethiopia exposed divisions in the alliance dominating the country for three decades, with two of four ethnic parties in the ruling coalition trading insults in a public feud.

There have been disagreements among parties but analysts describe the acrimonious exchange between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Amhara Democratic Party (ADP) as among the most serious yet.

The groups shared power with two other ethnic parties since 1991 in the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), that tolerated little dissent until Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took power last year and launched political reforms.

The new tensions arose after a rogue militia tried to seize power in northern Amhara, ruled by the ADP. Authorities blamed the June 22 attempted regional coup on Asamnew Tsige, a rogue ADP member, killed in fighting on the outskirts of regional capital Bahir Dar.

In recent days, the TPLF accused the ADP of having stood by while Asamnew trained and armed a militia in the lead-up to the uprising and failing to denounce him.

“The TPLF would have difficulty working with its so-called sister party, which hasn’t even dared to stare the killer in the eye,” Getachew Reda, executive member of TPLF and former national communication minister, told Reuters.

The ADP responded by accusing the TPLF of being “responsible for the current political crisis in the country. The TPLF has no moral or practical ground to consider itself the only guardian of Ethiopia,” it said in a statement. It gave no further details.

FLYING IN THE FACE OF REALITY

The TPLF was angered when ADP chairman, Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen, said an unidentified third group was behind the June uprising. The TPLF viewed the remarks as an ADP attempt to avert blame.

“How would I feel comfortable sitting next to Demeke while his remarks are flying in the face of reality?” TPLF’s Getachew told Reuters.

The violence on June 22 was the strongest challenge yet to Abiy’s rule, who in just over a year in power rolled out reforms allowing greater freedoms in what was one of Africa’s most repressive states.

The reforms made it possible for long-held grievances against decades of harsh rule to resurface and emboldened local power-brokers seeking to build support by securing more power and territory for their ethnic groups.

Resulting waves of unrest forced government to postpone a long-delayed national census and throws doubt over whether an election next year will be held.

Each of the ruling coalition’s four ethnically-based parties faces increasing competition from newer, more strident parties in their own provinces,and are becoming more assertive to avoid being outflanked, analysts say.

“It will be difficult for the ruling coalition to maintain current status ahead of the upcoming election,” said Mulugeta Aregawi, a lecturer at the Addis Ababa University School of Law.

William Davison, an analyst from Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said if tensions among the parties were to break up the ruling coalition, it “would leave a major power vacuum”. He added it still appeared unlikely for now, “as all actors have too much to lose.”