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Ethiopia - Meles Zenawi on his daughter's future role in PoliticsQuestion: Is there a possibility, assuming that the EPRDF were to win the next election that you would resign from your post as Prime Minister but stay on as a leader of the EPRDF and is that something that you would consider?
In the case of EPRDF too, the party leader would be the Prime Minister if the party wins the majority seats. Therefore, there is no possibility for me to maintain my party position after having resigned my government position. When they go, the two go together, you cannot have them separately, that is not the preferred practice in the EPRDF.
Question: Two months ago you told Reuters that you are looking for a long respite after your retirement and that you felt the time was right to go. But, it seems like you have been held hostage by the party. If you are tired and would rather be somewhere else, does that make you less effective as a leader for Ethiopia than you have been thus far? After all five years is a long time.
PM Meles: Will I be less effective? That will be for the party to say. What you can be sure of is that I will be a loyal member of the party. Even after five years, when I will surely retire, because the party has said so, I hope to continue to serve it in any capacity I can. I will not spare an ounce of my strength to serve the party and the people of this country.
Question: The ruling party announces that you will stay in office for at least another term. Following that, critics say that the move proves that the party was not looking to govern in the years after your term and that it was not grooming successors. Say, for instance, if the Prime Minister gets sick or suffers all sorts of challenges, what would happen to the party? Should it not want to let go of a Prime Minister who just said he had enough?
PM Meles: I think the point being made was not that anybody was irreplaceable. If push comes to shove, anybody can be replaced by anybody. What the party was suggesting was that in order to ensure policy continuity and success in the implementation of the party’s platform, the succession plan needs to be better implemented and for that the party feels that there was need for some additional time.
Anything can happen to any person at any one time and that person will be replaced in 24 hours. But that does not mean that it is the most efficient way of doing it. It simply means when you are forced to do things you do them, but when you feel you have time to do them better, then you can do them better with better preparation. That is what the party, I think, was saying.
Question: Everyone knows that you will be retiring after five years. Do you not think this will ignite power struggle within your party in order to end up being chairperson of the party and Prime Minister of the country, provided that the party wins election?
PM Meles: As far as the so called risk of power struggle in the EPRDF to replace the current chairperson is concerned, I am not worried about it. I do not think it is going to happen. I think the programme of succession planning is going to be carried out very meticulously. In a properly phased manner, I think a very significant part of it will take place immediately after the party congress in September next year. The rest will be completed by the end of that term which would be by the next EPRDF congress. We are going to have two congresses in the next five years; by the second congress, all process would have been completed. I think the preparation is well underway and the basic parameters are in place. I am pretty confident it will work like clockwork.
Question: In the west, leaders in office for their last term are given the moniker “lame-duck” president or prime minister, because everybody knows that they would be going away? Are you not worried that your influence and leverage might somehow not be as powerful as it used to be, particularly over the last 10 years?
PM Meles: Will I become a “lame-duck Prime Minister”? Maybe. But that should be the definition of somebody who is preparing the groundwork for somebody else to takeover. That is his mission. It is just like relay; the one who has done the running first has to slowdown a bit before the other one to pick momentum. If it is a bit of slowing down and a certain “lame ducking”, that is in the nature of things. It may ease the transition, and do a little damage.
Question: You have three children and your oldest daughter is now of age. She is older than you when you were in the bush at the age of 19. Parents have little control over the wishes and interests of their children; nevertheless, they always wish the best for their young. Thus, regardless of her choices and decisions to do whatever in life, as a father, do you aspire and wish for her to have a role and place in public political life in Ethiopia?
PM Meles: Fortunately, I do not make decisions for her. But if I were to make that decision, I would tell her to stay clear from this kind of life, if she possibly can. But in the end, if there is enough fire in her to make it possible to live such a life - because I do not think you can live it without adequate fire inside - and if she has that fire, then welcome to the club. But if she does not have that fire, this should be the last thing she should think of. And my advice to every kid in Ethiopia is “if you have the fire – go for it, if you do not – stay as far away from it as you possibly can for your own health”.
Question: Do you think she has the fire?
PM Meles: I do not think so. I hope she does.