The OPDO central committee that met this past week failed to elect a replacement for its ailing party chairman and president of Oromia, Alemayehu Atomsa. It is the second time that such an attempt to elect a new leader has been adjourned without success. During the first round that took place mid-August in Adama, the TPLF attempted to impose Aster Mamo. But she failed to garner even one third of the vote. The boiling confrontation was halted when Meles’ death was announced.
Still, the TPLF brought Mamo to sit in the EPRDF executive committee meeting with the aim of boosting her stature, even though she is not one of the nine that represent the OPDO in the 36 member EPRDF executive committee. Her and Workneh Gebeyehu’s ( Federal police commissioner) presence at that meeting without being officially delegated by OPDO, was seen as a direct affront to the leadership of their resistance two weeks earlier. The TPLF has often masterminded who could represent the OPDO in the coalition, but never has directly promoted someone to the EPRDF CC without at least symbolic and official endorsement by the parent party. Therefore, this blatant act was seen as deeply offensive, even by those in the OPDO who held reconciliatory tone towards the TPLF during the previous meeting in Adama.
The attack on the OPDO was intensified during the run-up to the election to fill the seats vacated by Meles. Bereket Simon’s office purposely spread rumors alleging that the OPDO had been withholding Hailemariam’s appointment, while the truth was that the OPDO raised no objection because they were quite certain that appointment of Hailemariam Desalegn and Demeke Mekonnen was a done deal. Moreover, the TPLF began encouraging selected individuals, particularly Kuma, to compete against Hailemariam –- which was contrary to the OPDO’s collective decision to stay out. Having convinced members of the rest of the coalition to vote for the two, the TPLF was setting up the OPDO for sure defeat and the humiliation of its key leaders (the EPRDF CC is made up of 180 members, therefore even had all of the OPDO voted in favor of their candidate and won over some sympathizers from other parties, they would still have been outvoted).
Nevertheless, after Kuma was forced to withdraw due to intense protest by the OPDO, Azeb Mesfin, Meles’ widow, suddenly nominated Sufian Ahmed, who had no clue what was happening. Although Bereket Simon refrained from publicly naming the third candidate that lost to Hailemariam and Demeke, he immediately ‘leaked’ it to his friends, who announced to the world that Sufian was the loser with a mere five votes out of 180.
Therefore, this repeated and blatant act was seen as deeply offensive even by those OPDO leaders who held a reconciliatory tone towards the TPLF during the previous meeting in Adama. Moreover, the absence of any Oromo from among the five top executive posts (prime minister, deputy prime minister, defense, foreign and economy) infuriated restless mid-level leadership of the OPDO that still feels resentment over the 2010 mass purges.
During this second round of meetings, the TPLF, through Kuma Demeksa, once again pushed Aster Mamo to be accepted as chief of the OPDO. Yet after five days of the meeting, the ‘mediators’ failed to convince the 51 members OPDO central committee to accept the candidate preferred by the TPLF. On the third and fourth day, on their way home from the meeting, vocal members of the central committee were harassed and roughed up by TPLF security personnel that attempted to intimidate them into submission. However, this seems to have backfired, as the proposed candidate was overwhelmingly rejected.
Asked why there was so much opposition to Aster, some members of the Central Committee are quick to emphasize that their issue is not with her candidacy but with the manner in which the TPLF has been pushing to impose her. They say that had it not been for the TPLF’s interference, she could have been one of the top contenders for the post.
The younger and zonal level cadres who make up the bulk of the 51 member OPDO Central Committee are insisting, with greater determination, to bring back Abadula. We shall recall that two years ago, these groups ferociously fought against the removal of Abadula, leading to the arrests of some 120 of them, right from the conference hall by the Agazi commando. The TPLF does not want Abadula because he has become a unifying figure for the emerging generation Oromo technocrats that are sick and tired of interference and domination by TPLF. Therefore, during the first round, the TPLF members argued that Abadula is not eligible to retake chairmanship of the OPDO because he participated in the armed struggle. But this argument fell flat after Abay Woldu, who took part in armed struggle, was elected to the leadership of the TPLF.
Failing to break this gridlock, Bereket’s office writes this press release that blames external forces, namely the OLF for the problem. The objective is clear. It is to scare the resisting OPDO leaders into submission and to throw them to jail if they continue to resist.
As noted in my previous article:
By nominating Abadula and refusing to endorse TPLF’s choice, the senior leadership is attempting to assert institutional independence. TPLF could still install its favored candidate, but it will have to do so not through the cooperation of the senior leadership as in the past, but rather by using force to crush this organizational dissent -– in the process showing its ugly face.
That ugly face is already showing with the ongoing physical assault and verbal intimidation of key members of the OPDO central committee. This is likely to be followed with another round of purge and imprisonment. But for TPLF, the days of bullying individual leaders to induce collective submission of OPDO seems to be quickly slipping away.
The current development indicates that the OPDO is now capable of resisting TPLF interference, but have not built the necessary capability to assert its own will. It has evolved from spineless puppet into a restless junior partner. But it has yet to become a fully independent party capable of advancing the interest of its constituency. This evolutionary step might seem small, but it is a giant leap for the OPDO and a significant development for Ethiopia’s power politics.