ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – Supporters of the Balderas party, one of the largest opposition parties, are taking part in an election campaign in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on June 16, 2021.
Michael Tewelde / Xinhua via Getty Images
Ethiopians will vote on Monday. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is campaigning for a message of unity amid conflict and looming famine in the north of the country.
The national elections, in which 547 members of the federal parliament will be elected and the chairman of the winning party becomes prime minister, should take place in August 2020, but have been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Abiy, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his work in ending a 20-year post-war territorial dispute with Eritrea, called on the Ethiopians earlier this week to ensure “the first free and fair elections in the country”.
Monday is his first election test since taking office in 2018 due to mass protests against the former coalition government dominated by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
But despite Abiy pursuing a bold reformist agenda that included crackdown on corruption and the release of political prisoners, Abiy conducted military operations against the TPLF in the northern Tigray region last year after it seized military bases.
The ensuing conflict has resulted in mass casualties and displacement, although no formal death toll has been recorded, and has brought the region to the brink of famine, according to the United Nations. Meanwhile, allegations of human rights violations have tarnished the German government’s international reputation. The African Union opened an investigation this week to investigate these allegations.
The legitimacy of the election was also called into question after parties in Oromia, Ethiopia’s most populous region, where Abiy is from, announced they would boycott it on allegations of government repression.
The Oromo Liberation Front announced in March that it would withdraw after the detention of party leaders and the alleged closure of their national offices. The Oromo Federalist Congress withdrew for similar reasons when prominent figures were jailed on terrorist charges.
The deductions coincided with a surge in deadly attacks in Oromia and parts of the northwestern Amhara region, attributed to a militant offshoot of the OLF.
Amhara militiamen who are fighting against the northern region of Tigray together with federal and regional forces will receive training on November 10, 2020 on the outskirts of the village of Addis Zemen north of Bahir Dar, Ethiopia.
EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP via Getty Images
The TPLF is now officially referred to as a terrorist organization whose leaders are either arrested, waging guerrilla warfare in Tigray or on the run.
“The biggest challenge for the elections is the uncertainty, especially in the west and south of Oromia, where the activities of ethnic militias are very much aimed at undermining the electoral process itself,” said Louw Nel, senior political analyst at NKC African Economics, in a Research note Thursday.
“Ethiopian security forces have tried to create the conditions for free and fair elections in the hardest hit areas and have been embroiled in abuses of their own.”
Uncertainty is also a cause for concern in the western region of Benishangul-Gumuz, fueled by competition for resources and long-standing ethnic animosities, stressed Nel.
Although dozens of parties have put forward candidates, only Ethiopian citizenship for social justice has a party leader with a sizable national profile – Berhanu Nega, who was elected mayor of the capital Addis Ababa in 2005 before being ousted by the TPLF-led government, and locked.
The National Electoral Body of Ethiopia announced on June 10th that elections in the Harar and Somali regions would no longer take place, along with a referendum on the establishment of a new state from several districts of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Regional State.
This is in addition to the 40 constituencies and six regions where May elections were postponed due to disruptions in voter registration. While these polls are now scheduled for September 6th, the elections in war-torn Tigray will be postponed indefinitely, which, according to a recently published report by the political risk consultancy Pangea-Risk, “5.7 million people who mainly oppose the federal government, effectively disenfranchised.
Abiy claimed victory in Tigray in November 2020, and the region is now under interim administration after the government declared TPLF prime ministry illegal. However, it is still battling a low-level insurrection, which the Pangea Risk report increases the risk of disproportionate war tactics by rebel groups.
“Persistent uncertainty, delayed elections and a seemingly botched round of telecommunications licenses are all signs of concern as Ethiopia struggles to recover from the pandemic and the economy slows to its lowest growth rate in nearly 20 years,” the report said .
The conflict in Tigray has damaged global reputations that could affect interest in the land as an investment location, a key tenet of Abiy’s privatization and economic liberation drive.
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – People listen as employees of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) explain how to vote under an overpass in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on June 17, 2021 in the upcoming general election on June 21, 2021.
YASUYOSHI CHIBA / AFP via Getty Images
“Companies that were once encouraged by the prospect of investing in a country led by a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who wanted to open it to the world are now at reputational risk when investing in a country plagued with war crimes and famine Connection, “said NKC’s Nel.
The government is currently planning to auction a 40% stake in Ethio Telecom, which is still attracting interest, with the ultimate goal of generating revenue through partial privatization and new licensing tenders while reducing the debt burden, partly through state-owned companies like Ethio Telecom .
“A relatively peaceful election will help rehabilitate Ethiopia and Mr. Abiy’s image,” said Nel.
“Violence before and after the elections will do the opposite, expose the country as broken and accelerate its isolation.”