Volume: Volume 25 - 2021
Article type: Refereed article
Author/s: Legesse Tigabu Mengie
Over 60 countries have postponed their elections due to COVID-19. As an election is the primary means by which government power is assumed in constitutional democracies, the postponement of elections has posed this question: what exit mechanisms do constitutional systems have to address a power vacuum caused by unforeseen circumstances like COVID-19? In other words, how can a legitimate government that adheres to the rule of law, a constitution more specifically, be ensured when elections cannot be held?
While some countries held elections amid COVID-19 with precautions, others postponed them. Ethiopia is one of those countries which have postponed their elections. The postponement of Ethiopia’s general elections sparked a debate about how the power vacuum caused by the pandemic should be addressed. After deliberating on the matter, Ethiopia’s lower house approved constitutional interpretation by the upper house as the best solution. The upper house, through interpreting the Constitution, extended the term limits of the federal and regional governments.
This article intends to address the question posed above by examining constitutional interpretation by the upper house as an exit strategy. It explores constitutional interpretation by this house and its implications for the rule of law and legitimacy of government. I conclude that comprehensive understanding of the Constitution offers an answer to the conundrum. The upper house has adopted a holistic interpretation approach and that is commendable. However, the ruling that allows the government to stay in power for an unknown time and the partiality inherent in the house compromise the merit of its interpretation.
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