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Updates on leadership in Romania, Ethiopia

Updates on leadership in Romania, Ethiopia

Ethiopians mourn the death of President Meles Zenawi in the capital of Addis Ababa on Aug. 21, 2012. Photo: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

Recently, important new developments have occurred in Romania and Ethiopia in relation to topics I have recently written about: the impeachment of Romanian President Traian Basescu, and mysterious disappearance of Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi.

Here’s a rundown of the aftermath of those stories. The future of democracy in both nations appears unclear.


On Aug. 21 Romania’s supreme court ruled that July 2012’s referendum on the impeachment of President Traian Basescu is invalid because the minimum threshold of participation required to certify results (50% of electorate) was not reached. Thus Basescu will be reinstated as Romania’s president.

As I commented in earlier stories, the impeachment proceedings have been seen as a politically-driven power grab by opposition party Prime Minister Victor Ponta. Even though Ponta was unsuccessful in removing Basescu on this occasion (this is the 2nd impeachment vote Basescu has survived), political unrest is expected to continue. Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, professor of democracy studies at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, said it would be almost impossible for the two political leaders to co-operate in coming months. “[The] rule of law was saved, but democracy is under major strain,” she said.

Romania is also at risk of losing a €5 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund. The next presidential election is scheduled for the end of 2014.

This is certainly a volatile situation and one to keep an eye on.


Any debate surrounding the condition of Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi was put to rest when state media announced he died on Aug. 20. Hailemariam Desalegn, deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs under Meles, will be sworn in as Ethiopia’s next president. Hailemariam — who also represents the ruling coalition party Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) headed by Meles — is of different ethnicity than his predecessor. Many believe Hailemariam will not be able to rule with the same authority.

Stability in Ethiopia’s government–and democracy–will depend on how Meles’ Tigrayan faction works with other groups that comprise the EPRDF. Kjetil Tronvoll of Oslo’s International Law and Policy Institute characterizes Ethiopia’s political situation as “precarious,” and one that “needs to be followed closely.”

Meles leaves a complicated legacy. Under his rule Ethiopia’s economy grew by leaps and bounds, and billions of dollars of foreign aid poured into the country. Meles’ two-decade reign was largely peaceful, a  major feat considering the nearly incessant violence and upheaval in the surrounding region. In the two months since Meles retreated from public view, civil unrest and disturbances have been minimal.

Yet Ethiopia remains desperately poor — its per capita income is just over $1,000. Meles exercised tight control over media and crushed any opposition to his rule or policies. Many feel he made Ethiopia a democracy in name only, ruling with an iron fist and allowing rampant human rights violations.

However one views Meles, it seems incontrovertible that his absence has brought on a power vacuum that calls into question stability in the entire region.



Scott Bleiweis

Scott Bleiweis writes on international relations topics for FPA. He has a M.A. in democracy studies and conflict resolution from the University of Denver, and a B.A. in Politics/International Studies from Brandeis University. Scott was formerly a Fulbright education scholar in Bulgaria (views in this blog are his own, and do not represent those of the Fulbright organization or U.S. government).

Scott supports Winston Churchill's characterization of the complex form of government known as democracy: “Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”