Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said on Thursday he had submitted his resignation as both premier and the chairman of the ruling coalition in an effort to facilitate reforms following years of widespread unrest.
Unrest and a political crisis have led to the loss of lives and displacement of many,” Hailemariam said in a televised address to the nation.
“I see my resignation as vital in the bid to carry out reforms that would lead to sustainable peace and democracy,” he said. The prime minister leads the nation under Ethiopia’s political system.
Hundreds of people have died in violence sparked in 2015 and 2016 in the country’s two most populous regions – Oromiya and Amhara. The unrest began as opposition to an urban development plan for the capital Addis Ababa, but morphed into public demonstrations against political restrictions, land grabbing and human rights abuses.
Some foreign-owned firms were attacked in the violence, which dented investor confidence in East Africa’s largest and fastest growing economy.
Hailemariam said he would stay on as prime minister in a caretaker capacity until the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and the country’s parliament accepted his resignation and named a new premier.
The ruling coalition has accepted his resignation, state-affiliated outlets said. It was not immediately clear when a new premier was to be announced.
His resignation follows lingering violence that pressured the government to release more than 6,000 of political prisoners since January.
Most of the released prisoners, which included high level opposition figures and journalists, were detained for alleged involvement in the mass protests.
The prime minister had pushed for even more releases, said a regional analyst familiar with Ethiopian politics. He asked not to be named in order not to jeopardize his relationship with the government.
“He (the Prime Minister) wanted more prisoners released – I think he wanted to empty the jails of all political prisoners. Remember he also ordered the closure of this notorious prison in Addis. This was a PM who wanted some major changes but sadly didn’t get all that he wanted,” the analyst said.
However, the resignation did not necessarily mean reforms would stop, the analyst said.
“It looks like there is a political power struggle and this has been ongoing for a while. I don’t think the resignation is a sign that the hard-liners have won. They will probably continue on the path of reform, albeit not to the scale and speed that people want. They realize that there is no option.”