By Siyanne Mekonnen @Siyaanne
March 17, 2021
The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) has been making headlines related to divisions within the leadership. In a recent development, the faction led by the deputy chairman Ararso Biqila has held a general assembly and elected a new chairman. The chairman of the party, Dawud Ibsa has put out several statements explaining the illegitimacy of the general assembly held by the splinter group.
The party’s interim public relations head, Batte Urgessa told Addis Standard, “The general assembly held by the breakaway group is illegal and unrecognized by the chairman.” Batte recounted the progression of the party after its headquarters in Addis Ababa was taken over by Addis Abeba police since August last year. He explained that since then, the police told them that the headquarters are thereby under the responsibility of the Addis Abeba police commission. “The day the premise was taken over by the police and the chairman was forcefully evacuated, the excuse we were given was, unspecified members of the party requested the police to guard the headquarters for fear of security. We don’t know why the police chose to provide security by blocking us from accessing the head office.”
In the days leading up to the general assembly organized by the splinter group led by the deputy chairman Ararso Biqila , the party leadership notified its members and its followers that the assembly set to be held on March 13-14, 2021 is not acknowledged by the party. The party has also written a letter, dated March 12, 2021 to Addis Abeba Police Commission, requesting it to put to a stop to the meeting that is ‘unrecognized’ by the party. Batte said, “The fact that the police are guarding the head office is unwarranted.” According to the party’s bylaws, it is the chairman of the party who should have requested the police to provide security. He added, “The police committed yet another illegal and partisan act by forcing the chairman out of the premises but escorting another group and helping them conduct a meeting.”
“The party was planning to hold a general assembly before the fallout and the seizure of its headquarters, ” said Batte Urgessa, the party interim public relations bureau head. He also clarified that the general assembly was not attended by members of the party at all organizational levels nor was it requested by the central committee as per the party’s bylaws. It doesn’t fulfill the procedures to conduct a general assembly which according to Batte, was set to be held three months after the election, as recommended by the National Electoral Board of Elections (NEBE) to all registered parties. The party wrote a letter dated March 13, 2021 to NEBE notifying the board that the assembly which took place in its headquarters is not recognized by the chairman, the organizing committee and members of the party. The party did not receive responses both from the NEBE and Addis Abeba police commission.
According to the proposal by the NEBE to settle the leadership dispute, the board decided to have both Dawud Ibsa remain as chairman and Ararso Biqila remain as deputy chairman until February 7, 2021, a date set by the NEBE for both sides to conduct a joint meeting inline with the party’s bylaws. Both Dawud Ibsa and Ararso Biqila were asked to nominate their own representatives while the board elects another expert to chair these two panels of experts and the board was going to make a final decision based on the recommendations of the two bodies and the experts selected by the Board. According to Batte Urgessa, that joint meeting was never held and the board had already decided that Dawud Ibsaa should remain the chairman of the party in December last year.
Batte argues that intervention by the NEBE was not requested by the party’s leadership and hence unnecessary, further explaining that the body with a mandate to make such requests is the representative of the party who is its chairman Dawud Ibsa. According to Batte, the party was readying to conduct a general assembly had it not been for the imprisonment of most members of its central committee and the question of accessibility to their headquarters throughout the preparation of the general assembly, the party had been notifying the NEBE of the milestones the organizing committee had reached. Battle also recalled repeated calls that went unaddressed leading up to its withdrawal from the election.
In an interview with BBC Afaan Oromo the deputy chairman of the splinter group, Qejela Merdasa said, “The decision to withdraw from the election is not unanimously agreed upon” Qejela Merdasa who was head of the party’s public relations bureau before the split, expressed intentions by the splinter group to participate in the upcoming elections by requesting to be given more time to register candidates. He also said, “The decision to appoint a new chairman should be taken as ‘100% OLF’s decision’.” In a general assembly that the NEBE recognized chairman of the party Dawud Ibsa did not attend as he was denied access to his party’s headquarters, Ararso Biqila was appointed as the chairman and Qejela Merdasa and Birhanu Lemma as his two deputies.
According to Qejela, the deputy chairman of the splinter group, the group has been able to utilize the party’s headquarters. While the group led by chairman Dawud Ibsa said that they haven’t been able to access the headquarters since August last year. Qejela Merdasa also said, “ Two representatives of the NEBE were in attendance to oversee the process and approve of the appointment of the new chairman.”
Batte Urgessa, the interim head of the public relations bureau of the party said, “Birhanu is not a registered member of the party. The party bylaws state that every attendee of the general assembly has to be a member of the party for at least three years.” Batte accuses the NEBE of siding with the splinter group led by deputy chairman Ararso Biqila by attending a meeting that was not called by the party’s chairman Dawud Ibsa.. He added, “The NEBE attending this meeting encourages dissent and it is among actions that are indications of a bigger plan to push the party out of the peaceful struggle.”
Addis Standard contacted the NEBE for comments on the matter through its spokesperson, the spokesperson declined to give a comment and told Addis Standard, “It is a sensitive issue and will be addressed through a statement later.” Addis Standard will share updates from the NEBE once they are published