The political parties that participated in the two postponed polls in Ethiopia next week have ended their election campaigns, and Prime Minister Abi Ahmed predicted that the country will successfully hold a peaceful vote.
The elections on June 21 will take place amid widespread ethnic unrest and economic challenges, as well as months-long conflicts in the northern region of Tigray. The United Nations warned that at least 350,000 people in the region are facing famine. Opposition parties in other major regions said they would boycott opinion polls, the sixth vote since the Communist government of Mengistu Haile Mariam was overthrown in 1991.
“The whole world is saying that we will fight, but we will show them in different ways,” Abbey said at the first and last rally in a crowded stadium in the southern town of Jima on Wednesday.
“The power to save Ethiopia from collapse will turn the Horn of Africa into the power center of Africa,” he added, wearing sunglasses and a tuxedo made from local traditional fabrics.
“I say to all Ethiopians (participating) struggling to ensure peace, democracy and prosperity in Ethiopia: As long as Ethiopians are united with one spirit and one heart, there is no force on earth that can stop us,” he said , Mixing his mother tongue-Afan Oromo, the language of the region-and the national Amharic language.
Abiy’s Welfare Party has sent the most candidates in the national parliamentary race, and is the winner’s favorite. Its extensive influence is unmatched by other parties.
For the 44-year-old, after years of anti-government protests, after coming to power in 2018, Monday’s opinion poll was an opportunity to win the people’s authorization.
After taking office, Abi promised to thoroughly reform the government and carry out democratic reforms. The ultimate goal is to achieve free and fair elections by 2020-the first time in history.
But in March last year, the country’s electoral agency announced that it would postpone the vote for a year, citing the risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic. This decision angered many political opponents in the country. They accused the ruling party of illegally extending its term of office on the pretext of the pandemic. The government denied this accusation.
Due to logistical issues, including training electoral staff and printing and distributing ballots, the second week was postponed last month.
Despite being called a national poll, Monday’s vote will not be held in nearly one-fifth of the country’s 547 electoral districts, including all 38 seats in Tigray and 64 seats for approximately 110 million people across the country. Most delayed voting is scheduled for September 6, but the date for Tigray has not yet been determined, where more than 5 million people need emergency food assistance.
After accusing the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the then ruling party in the region, of planning an attack on the federal military camp, Abi ordered ground and air military operations in Tigray in early November 2020. TPLF officials rejected the accusation.
Abi’s forces were supported by the Eritrean army and Ethiopian Amhara region fighters. At the end of November, the army declared victory when it entered the regional capital of Mekle. However, the fighting continues, and reports of massacres, rapes and widespread starvation continue to emerge.
The United States has always been an ally of Ethiopia, but as the Tigray conflict has dragged on, critics have become more and more outspoken, expressing shock at the conditions under which the vote will take place.
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said last week that the detention of prominent opposition leaders and the raging ethnic conflict in the country “have an obstacle to the free and fair election process and whether Ethiopians believe they are credible.”
“Due to security issues and internal displacement, excluding most voters from this game is particularly disturbing,” he added.
The European Union said in May that it would not send observers to the polls, citing the failure to reach an agreement with the government on basic issues such as communications and observer independence.
The Oromia Federal Party Congress and the Oromia Liberation Front — two of the most famous political parties in Oromia State, the most populous region of the country — withdrew from the race, complaining that their candidates were arrested and their offices were destroyed.
But opposition supporters who participated in the upcoming poll on Wednesday took to the streets of the capital Addis Ababa, squeezed into town squares, and blocked traffic with noisy parades, singing and dancing.
The leaders of the Valderas Party were held in jail. They carried out a noisy parade in the city center. The parade was led by men on horseback, followed by a team of deafening loudspeakers.
“We are uniting for the people, even if we don’t believe that this vote will be completely free or fair,” said Zebiba Ibrahim, a 25-year-old opposition candidate.
“We are doing our best, so our voices can be heard.”
In Meskel Square in the center of the capital, another opposition party, Ezema, gathered supporters wrapped in Ethiopian flags and chanting slogans to prepare for the final rally.
“In the previous elections, you couldn’t assemble, you couldn’t do anything,” Temesgen Getahun, a 37-year-old hotel staff member, was watching a nearby celebration.
“If you go to the streets, you will be sentenced to jail… Considering those elections, this election is good.”