Ethiopia is about to hold its elections on June 21 this year. The vote is significant as it stands as the first test of PM Abiy Ahmed who rose to power in 2018 in a popular protest movement against the authoritarian coalition dominated by the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).
Voters will elect new representatives to the 547-member federal parliament where the leader of the winning party will choose the Prime Minister. The country held its last general election in 2015.
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Conflict and atrocities
The world is closely monitoring the developments in Ethiopia, whose Nobel Prize-winning president is waging war on the country’s northwestern Tigray region. The brutal conflict has resulted in incidences of war abuses prompting the European Union to freeze budgetary support payments unless the cases of mass murder of civilians, gang rapes, and looting are addressed in the country’s Northeast.
The conflict began 6 months ago between the federal government and the TPLF. Days after the fighting escalated, forces from the Amhara region and Eritrea were sent in to bolster Ethiopian troops. The UN believes war crimes have been committed by all parties in the conflict. Amnesty gives the death toll on civilians from the Eritrean troops to be in the hundreds, qualifying as crimes against humanity.
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Abiy Ahmed’s rise to power was based on a transformational platform. He received both local and international praise for releasing political prisoners, clamping down on corruption, appointing women to his cabinet, and making peace with longtime neighboring rival Eritrea. This was after the border war that resulted in the deaths of thousands of people. This reformist agenda earned him the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.
One of the reasons why conflict began in the first place was PM Abiy’s decision to delay the country’s election. The TPLF accused the PM of using the covid-19 pandemic as a pretext to extend his stay in power long after its September 2020 expiry date.
On entering power, Abiy abandoned the TPLF-dominated Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) alliance for the Prosperity Party. He argues that a single national party will end ethnic divisions and forge national unity. TPLF refused to join the new party. The three other members of the EPRDF agreed to dissolve the Amhara Democratic Party, the Oromo Democratic Party, and the Southern Ethiopian People's Democratic Movement, in favor of a single party.
State of the elections
Ethiopia’s National Election Board has approved over 40 political parties to field candidates. Over 9,000 candidates will be vying for seats in the federal and regional races - the highest ever in the country’s history. 31 million of the country’s 50 million potential voters are already registered. Opposition parties are however displeased with the manner in which the government is conducting itself as the vote approaches. They cite the arbitrary crackdown on their officials. Parties from Oromia have announced a boycott of the election altogether. The Oromo Liberation Front pulled out of the race in March, citing the jailing of some of its leaders and the closure of its main offices in Addis Ababa. The party is one of the country’s oldest parties and comes from Oromia, where Abiy hails from. The Oromo Federalist Congress also announced its pull out of the elections on similar grounds.
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No polls will be conducted in embattled Tigray inspite of PM Abiy having already declared victory in November 2020. The state is now administered by an interim body. Defects in ballot papers have also delayed voting in 54 other regions with the electoral body citing defective ballot papers. Reuters reports that 78 of the total 547 areas won't be choosing new leaders on elections day.
Election credibility concerns
The European Union Mission withdrew its election observers in May over the lack of agreement on key parameters. Ethiopian authorities failed to give assurances on the independence of their mission, even restricting them from importing their own communications systems for security. Ethiopia’s foreign ministry termed that EU decision as “neither essential nor necessary” when it comes to determining the credibility of their election.