Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been sworn in to another five year term at the opening of a new session of parliament. Mr. Meles is expected to begin his term with a government reshuffle.
"Honorable [Ato] Meles Zenawi has been been appointed as prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Ethiopia."
With those words spoken by Speaker of Parliament Abadulah Gemeda, Mr. Meles officially began his fourth term in office. By the time this five year term is over, the former Marxist guerrilla leader will have been in power nearly a quarter of a century.
His deputy chairman of the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, Hailemariam Dessalegn, hailed the prime minister as an international statesman and leader of the revolution that overthrew the pro-Soviet dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991. He spoke in Amharic through a translator. "Our country Ethiopia is changing at a very fast rate and in international forums the man has played a critical role to make sure the rights of Africa are ensured," he said.
Among Mr. Meles's first acts is expected to be a fundamental reorganization of his government, possibly as early as Tuesday. Deputy EPRDF chairman Hailemariam is said to be in line for a senior post, but there has been little speculation in the local press about who may be named to which prominent positions.
Lawmakers Monday said even government insiders were only informed of the list at the last moment.
The EPRDF and its allies control 545 of the 547 seats in this parliament, in sharp contrast to the last parliament, where there were more than 150 opposition members. Of the remaining two seats, one is held by an independent, the other by Girma Seifu, the lone winner from main opposition Medrek front.
When asked what he hoped to accomplish in his role as voice of the opposition, his answer was blunt. "Nothing. If things continue like this, you can do nothing," he said.
The opening of the new session has given rise to strong speculation about the imminent release of opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa. Birtukan was among dozens of opposition activists sentenced to life in prison after the disputed 2005 elections, but she is the only one still behind bars.
She has been named a prisoner of conscience by rights groups, and was listed as a political prisoner in the most recent US State Department human rights report.
Mr. Meles hinted at the possibility of Birtukan's release last month at a public forum in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
A clergyman who has been allowed to see Birtukan in prison said Monday he was aware of negotiations for her release. When asked if he knew when it might happen, he said, "call me tomorrow."