Elected unanimously by both houses of parliament on Monday for a six-year term, Ethiopia's new President Lieutenant Girma Woldegiorgis, 76, may have been a surprise choice, but he is no stranger to the country's political trials and tribulations. The president, whose name never came up during the days of widespread speculation by the local media, replaces Negaso Gidada - the first president under the constitution which made Ethiopia a federal republic in 1995.
The presidency itself is ceremonial, but the new president vowed in a maiden speech to a joint session of the Council of People's Representatives and the House of the Federation in Addis Ababa on Monday to lead and serve the country diligently and fairly, Ethiopian Tigray Radio reported. The outgoing president, Negaso Gidada, told the session he was pleased, because the transition of power had been smooth, which was a sign of democratic development. He was, the radio reported, ready to serve the country in any other capacity.
Like Negaso, the new president is a member of the majority Oromo ethnic group, which constitutes over 30 percent of Ethiopia's 63 million people. He served as parliamentary Speaker under Emperor Haile Selassie, prior to which he had been an air force officer. At the time of the emperor's overthrow in 1974, he was president of the Red Cross in Eritrea. After the subsequent ousting of Mengistu Hailemariam in 1991 by the current ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, he went into private business. He was later re-elected to parliament as an independent member.