Parliament of Ethiopia

Short History

Parliament of Ethiopia

The first Ethiopian parliament was opened in Nov. 3, 1931 after   Emperor Haile Sillassie-I had proclaimed his   first constitution in July, 1931. From this time onwards, parliament as political institution has been established in Ethiopia even so the practice varies across regimes. This text tries to present the nature of parliaments introduced by three Ethiopian governments which ruled over the country.

Parliament during Emperor Hailesillassie-I (Imperial rule, 1930- 1974)

The first written constitution was proclaimed by Emperor   Haile Sillasie-I, on November 3, 1931 shortly after his coronation staged on July 16, 1931.The constitution is said to be that the gift of the Emperor on his will conferred  to his people upon  his coronation.

The constitution was introduced with the intention of transforming the country from old and traditional administration to modern bureaucracy .On top of that, to show the world that Ethiopia was being ruled by constitutional monarchy. The Emperor had set up a committee of 11 members who were selected from landed aristocracy. The committee was presided over by renowned aristocrat, Ras Kassa Hailu. To prepare the draft constitution, the committee used to meet on daily base and outlined the details of the constitution on the basis of the following five fundamental points:

  1. The crown of the emperor shall be perpetually transmitted to the descendants of imperial blood, whose line descends from Haile Selassie I, and King Sahle Selassie,

  2. The imperial government assures the union of the Ethiopian nation and territory,

  3. Consolidates the central, imperial government of the Emperor,

  4. The existing , absolute feudalism rule, traditionallyusedbythegovernmentof the emperor, now shall betransformed in toimperial administration havingfull discretion of powerand somehow it shall beassistedby the opinions of theHouse of the Peoples,

  5. The parliament is able to study issues pertained to the right and the obligations of the peoples and consult the Emperor as provided by laws.

Although the Emperor had made utmost effort in order that the nobility and gentries would accept   the constitution for its national advantages, public discussion was not held on the draft constitution. Even so  there existed  the  provision of  people’s rights  from article 18 to 28  in many articles of the constitution, it was  expressively stated  that the constitution  granted legal assurance for the consolidation of  imperial regime. For instance, article 2 says   ̋The imperial government assures the union of the territory, of the nation and of the law of Ethiopia.̏

The parliament had two advisory chambers of the imperial government: These are Chamber of the Senate and Chamber of the Deputies.

Advisors   for Chamber of the Senate (Upper House) shall directly be appointed by Emperor from among the dignitaries (Mekuanent) who had been serving longer   as princes or ministers, judges or army leaders. Members of the Senate were responsible to scrutinize and endorse laws and regulations prepared by imperial government which were considered to be important for the national growth and development. Also, it would comment and ratify political and economic agreements that the imperial government concluded with foreign   governments.

 The 1931 constitution, as a temporary measure, provides that the members of the Chamber of Deputies (Peoples’ Representatives), shall be chosen by the dignitaries (Mekuanent) and the local chiefs (Shumoch) until the people are capable of electing them. However, these advisors, as peoples’ representatives, were unable to pass political decisions on the behalf of the peoples, as they were elected by the government to fulfill formal structure. They were only required to discuss and give comments on matters referred to them by government. They had no power to censure and control the administration. Especially, they were not allowed to call and question ministries of the imperial government. Hence, the parliament became a powerless legislative organ and could not practice modern parliamentary system.

When the constitution revised in 1955, it was decided that members of the Deputies to be elected directly by the peoples. In consequence, 125 members for Chambers of Deputies and 250 members for the Senate were elected. The parliament seemed to have been transformed from advisory status to legislative organ of the imperial government. Also, standing committees were established to scrutinize issues and present resolution to the parliament.

However, even so the 1955 revised constitution stipulated that members of the Chamber of the Deputies to be elected directly by peoples, paradoxically; it became the gathering of rural gult holders (landed aristocrats) and urban feudo- bourgeoisies. Hence, it failed to be a strong political organ and a platform to oppose the Emperor absolute power and the feudalism as a system to safeguard the public interest.   

The constitution revised again but it was not proclaimed when the February popular revolution erupted in 1974, consequentially, on September 12, 1974, the emperor had been pitched from power by coup, mounted by military Junta, Dergue. The Dergue, having assumed the state power, dissolved the parliament and declared the country a socialist state.

The Dergue  National Shengo (  the Assembly) (Military Regime ,  from  1974- 1991)

The Dergue means a committee; whose members were Marxist army officers came from   various military units, ranking below a Major. When the Dergue, assumed state power in November 12, 1974, it declared itself a Provisional Military Government and ruled the country for 13 years without constitution.

To transform its military rule to civil administration, the Dergue, had organized workers party of Ethiopia (WPE)   and proclaimed the PDRE constitution on 12th Sep. 1987.

The Dergue adopted its constitution in line with Marxist-Leninist ideology orientation.  The National Assembly proclaimed the establishment of the PDRE on Sep. 12, 1987 by proclamation No.2/1987. The Shengo had a five year term and assembled once in a year. The Council of Government would sort out issues to be decided by the National Shengo every year. The National Assembly (Shengo) was formed by representatives elected from 835 constituents to serve for term a five years.

According to the provision of the PDRE constitution, the Shengo conducted its sitting once a year and a permanent body (council of government) performed the duty of the Assembly when it is not in a session. The Assembly of the Dergue was a unicameral legislature oriented to socialist principle, based on one party system.

Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (Democratic Government), 1991---)

Council of the Transitional Government of Ethiopia( from 1991-1994)

Following the down fall of the Dergue regime by the EPRDF armed and political struggle, the Council of the Transitional Government of Ethiopia was formed as an outcome of Peace and Democratic Transition Conference of Ethiopia, held in Addis Ababa from July 1-5, 1991. The conference approved a Charter by which the Council was directed.

It was various political forces: political parties, movements and armed forces established the House of Representatives of the Transitional Government. In accordance with the Charter, the Council had 26 members, of which three were women.

The Council served for 4 years and its main duty was to lay a foundation for the establishment of democratic government. Accordingly, it had approved the FDRE constitution on December 9, 1994 and then handed over its power to the newly elected government, on August 21, 1995.

Parliament of the FDRE (From 1995---)

According to the   FDRE constitution article 53, the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia has two Federal Houses:  The House of Peoples’ Representatives and House of the Federation. Accordingly, these Houses have been established since August 1995. The House of Peoples’ Representatives is the highest authority of the federal government. Members of the House of peoples’ Representatives shall be elected from candidates in each electoral district by a plurality of the votes cast by the people for a term of five years on the basis of universal suffrage and by direct, free and fair election held by secret ballot.

Members of the House, on the basis of population and special representation of minority Nationalities and Peoples, shall not exceed 550; of these, minority Nationalities and Peoples shall have at least 20 seats. According to the provision in the   article 50(3) of the constitution, the House of Peoples’ Representatives is responsible to the people.

Powers and Functions of the House of Peoples’ Representatives

The House has powers and functions stated in the constitution, articles 55, 70(1), 79(4) (c), 82(2) (c), 101, 102, 103, and 104. The following are the main powers and functions of the House:

  • Enacting laws,
  • Scrutinizing and endorsing the federal government budget,
  • Overseeinggovernment bodies’ operations and where necessary to take a measure against,
  • Establishing and organizing its own various committees and other important organs,
  • Electing and approving the appointment of government officials proposed by government and/or nominated by itself,
  • Making an arrangement for MPs of the House to meet their respective constituents in course of discharging their public representation duty.

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