March 28 (UPI) — Ethiopia’s ruling coalition elected Abiy Ahmed as its new chairman Wednesday, setting him on a course to become the country’s next prime minister.
Ahmed garnered 108 out of 180 votes in a meeting by the council of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front to be its new chairman and succeed Hailemariam Desalegn as prime minister.
The EPRDF and its allies control all 547 seats in Ethiopia’s parliament, which must confirm the new prime minister, and its chairman has historically taken the on the role of prime minister.
Ahmed’s election comes six weeks after Desalegn resigned as both prime minister and leader of the EPRDF in February, prompting a nationwide state of emergency.
Desalegn said the move was “vital in the bid to carry out reforms that would lead to sustainable peace and democracy.”
Ahmed would be Ethiopia’s third prime minister since the EPRDF overthrew the communist regime in 1991.
He would also be the first Oromo head of state in the modern era, potentially calming protests and violence in the country.
Oromos make up a third of Ethiopia’s 100 million people and maintain that they have been systematically excluded from power.
Hundreds of people have died in the past three years of anti-government protests centered around Ethiopia’s two largest regions, Oromia and Amhara.
Ahmed won the role of chairman after Demeke Mekonnen of the Amhara National Democratic Movement withdrew his candidacy and became the coalition’s deputy chairman, suggesting the Oromos and the Amharas have formed an alliance.