Hailemariam Desalegn, who has sat at the helm of the Ethiopian government since 2012, announced on Thursday he would be stepping down as prime minister and head of the ruling coalition.

By Jillian Kestler-D’Amours (Al Jazeera) |

Some describe it as a “transformational moment”; others the result of an “unprecedented” wave of protests.

But whatever it is labelled, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s surprise resignation is setting the stage for a crucial succession race that is likely to shape the future course of a country rocked by violent unrest and political instability.

Hailemariam, who has sat at the helm of the Ethiopian government since 2012, announced on Thursday he would be stepping down as prime minister and head of the ruling coalition.

He cited ongoing “unrest and a political crisis” in the country as major factors in his resignation, which he described as “vital in the bid to carry out reforms that would lead to sustainable peace and democracy”.

Awol Allo, a lecturer at Keele University’s School of Law and an expert on Ethiopia, said the announcement was not entirely unexpected, as rumors that Hailemariam would step down after the ruling party congress next month were widespread.

“But [the resignation] came sooner than most had expected,” Allo told Al Jazeera.

Figures within the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) have been at odds, he explained, and mass protests in the country’s restive Oromia region and elsewhere calling for greater freedoms have increased pressure on Hailemariam’s government.

The ruling coalition, which controls all seats in Ethiopia’s 547-strong parliament, is composed of four political parties delineated along ethnic lines: the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization (OPDO), the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM).

The TPLF is perceived to be the most dominant group within the ruling coalition, even though Tigrayans make up only six percent of the country’s population. Members of the group also hold influential positions in the security forces and other sectors.

By contrast, the Oromo and Amhara people, who have longstanding grievances against the government and say that they are politically, economically and socially marginalized, make up over 61 percent of the population.

Continue reading this story at Al Jazeera
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