Ethiopians vote in two postponed elections next week, overshadowed by famine warnings and increasing reports of atrocities in the war-affected northern Tigray region.
On Monday, Ethiopia had about 110 million people, of which about 37 million registered to vote, but due to logistical, legal and security related challenges, many people will have to wait until September to vote. Here are five things about important polls in Africa’s second most populous country.
Abi seeks authorization
In the regions where the elections will take place, voters will elect national and regional parliamentarians. The task of national parliamentarians is to elect the prime minister and president as the head of government-a mainly ceremonial role.
The polls will mark the voters’ first test of 44-year-old Prime Minister Abi Ahmed, the youngest leader in Africa and the first leader from the Oromia region in Ethiopia.
Abiy’s appointment as prime minister in 2018-after years of anti-government protests forced his predecessor Hailemariam Desalegn to step down-was initially met with an explosion of optimism from many people at home and abroad.
Within months of leading the ruling coalition in Ethiopia, Abiy released tens of thousands of political prisoners and allowed the return of exiled opposition groups. He also announced economic reforms, including the opening of parts of Ethiopia’s strictly controlled market and the establishment of a stock exchange.
In 2019, Abi won the Nobel Peace Prize in part because of his reform efforts and the end of the long-term border stalemate to achieve peace with neighboring Eritrea.
“We will ensure the unity of Ethiopia,” Abiy said at the last election rally on Wednesday, after the past votes-all won by the four-party coalition Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF)-were destroyed, he reiterated his opinion The promise of free and fair elections has been accused of fraud and violations. In 2015, EPRDF and its allies won all parliamentary seats in the process of being damaged by allegations of voter intimidation.
Postpone the election
After taking office for more than a year, Abi disbanded the entire EPRDF alliance and formed the Prosperity Party (PP) with his political allies.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which dominated the ruling coalition for nearly 30 years before Abi came to power, refused to follow the other three ethnic parties of the EPRDF into the PP. It accused the prime minister of concentrating power at the expense of Ethiopia’s ethnic regions, which he denied. PP officials stated that the dissolution of EPRDF will reduce social divisions and strengthen democracy. The highly anticipated elections are scheduled for August 2020.
But in March last year, Abiy postponed the poll for 10 months on the grounds of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to logistical setbacks, including delays in voter registration and lack of election officials, the second election was postponed to June 21.
The initial postponement aroused the anger of most of the country’s political opponents, who accused the ruling party of illegally extending its term of office on the pretext of the pandemic. The government denied this accusation.
TPLF continued to hold elections in the northern region of Tigray-and won by a landslide-bringing it into conflict with the federal government.
On November 4, after months of tension, Abi ordered federal troops into Tigray and accused TPLF of launching an attack to take over the Ethiopian Army’s Northern Command. The regional leaders at the time denied the accusation, accusing the federal government and their long-time enemy Eritrea (Eritrea’s army supported Ethiopian soldiers in battle) for launching a “coordinated attack” against it.
Abi promised to carry out swift military operations to detain and disarm the leadership of the Thai Liberation Front and the militia. However, the fighting continues, and reports of massacres, rapes and widespread starvation continue to emerge.
It is estimated that the conflict has caused thousands of deaths and displaced more than 2 million people. Last week, humanitarian agencies warned that 350,000 people in Tigray were on the verge of famine, and some diplomats described the crisis as “man-made” because they were accused of being forced to starve. The Ethiopian government refused to accept this figure and stated that food aid for the region’s 6 million people has reached 5.2 million.
The fighting meant that Tigray’s 38 electoral districts would not be able to vote, and military personnel, who usually play a key role in transporting election materials, are busy in conflict.
In total, out of 547 electoral districts, voting in 110 electoral districts was postponed. Some areas were considered too insecure to hold a vote, plagued by armed movements and ethnic violence, and as the areas pushed for greater freedom, these areas deteriorated under Abi’s leadership.
In other cases, the Election Committee is not ready, and printing errors on the ballot papers and other logistical setbacks make timely and comprehensive elections impossible.
The second stage of voting will be held on September 6 to accommodate many electoral districts that did not participate on Monday-but not in Tigray because there is no set date.
PP has a leading position in the field where nearly 50 political parties are vying for parliamentary seats. It registered 2,432 candidates in the election, and the second largest party, the Ethiopian Citizens of Social Justice (ECSJ), is sending 1,385 candidates.
However, some prominent opposition parties have stated that they will boycott opinion polls to protest the imprisonment of their leaders and other concerns about the fairness of the voting process.
These include the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC).
Last year, the killing of a popular Oromo musician caused a wave of riots. Several well-known OFC members are still in prison, and the leader of OLF is under house arrest. Eskinder Nega, the leader of Valderas for the real Democratic Party, has also been arrested and is running in jail for the election.
On Sunday, the five opposition parties issued a joint statement stating that campaign activities outside the capital Addis Ababa were “affected by serious problems, including killings, attempted murders and beatings of candidates.”
However, some people choose to stay in the game, hoping that their participation will help the country seek democratization.
Nathaniel Felega, of the Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice Party, told Al Jazeera: “We are very hopeful. As we said internally, we are fighting for money for the ruling party.” “We will continue to do so. Until the end of the event. We hope that the next parliament will not be as boring as the previous ones.”
Look from outside
Despite Abi’s promise, the international community is increasingly worried about the fairness of the election.
The European Union stated that it will not comply with the vote after its request to import communications equipment is rejected.
In response, Ethiopia stated that external observers were “neither necessary nor necessary to prove the credibility of the election,” although it has since welcomed observers deployed by the African Union.
Last week, the U.S. State Department stated that it “expressed serious concern about the environment of the upcoming elections”, citing “detention of opposition politicians, harassment of independent media, partisan activities of local and regional governments, and many inter-ethnic and inter-ethnic conflicts in Ethiopia” .
Earlier this month, Abi accused “traitors” and “outsiders” of working to undermine Ethiopia, and this week, his spokeswoman Billin Seyoum described the election as an opportunity for citizens to “exercise democratic rights.” And accused the international media of “the assassination of the prime minister’s character.”