ADDIS ABABA, Sep 21 – Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn took the oath of office Friday, vowing to maintain the legacy of long-time ruler Meles Zenawi who died last month.
“I, Hailemariam Desalegn, in front of the parliament, accept to be the prime minister of Ethiopia,” he said, as lawmakers banged on their desks in support.
Hailemariam, 47, was elected last week as the chairman of the ruling coalition Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which holds an overwhelming majority in parliament.
“With the decision of the EPRDF and the parliament, I am very happy to take the responsibility of being prime minister,” he said, speaking after taking the oath with his hand on the bible.
A close ally of Meles as deputy prime minister and foreign minister since 2010, Hailemariam vowed to continue in the footsteps of the late ruler.
“We brought peace, democracy and development to the country,” he said.
“Meles considered himself as a son of the people,” he added, promising to continue “Meles’s legacy without any change.”
Some analysts have argued that Hailemariam will be handicapped by his relatively young age, lack of experience and the fact he was not part of the still powerful core of former rebels who seized power in 1991.
Education minister Demeke Mekonnen, elected last week as deputy chair of the EPRDF, was elected deputy prime minister, taking over the post from Hailemariam.
“I will serve the country and faithfully serve the prime minister,” Demeke said as he took the oath.
He vouched his support for Hailemariam, praising his “leadership with the late prime minister” and his “significant role in the EPRDF regarding democracy, and the development of the country.”
Hailemariam, a Protestant, comes from the minority Wolayta people, from the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region, where he was president for five years.
Demeke, from the Amhara people of Ethiopia’s central highlands – who make up around a quarter of the country’s 84 million people – is a Muslim.