Ethiopia delays June 5 elections amid security, logistical challenges

The election board says delays in opening polling stations and voter registration have pushed back the voting day.

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Ethiopia postpones June 5 elections over low voter registration www.africanpolicy.com

Ethiopia has delayed its national election again after some opposition parties said they would not take part and as a conflict in the country’s Tigray region means no vote is being held there, further complicating Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s efforts to centralise power.

Birtukan Mideksa, chairperson of The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE), “indicated that delays in opening polling stations and voter registration have pushed the voting day”, state news agency Fana reported on Saturday.

Mideksa told Reuters news agency the election would not happen on June 5 as scheduled.

“We will let everybody [know] soon as to how many additional weeks or days to complete the delayed tasks … Wouldn’t be more than three weeks,” she added.

Mideksa cited a plethora of logistical delays, such as finalising voter registration, training electoral staff, printing and distributing ballot papers.

“Practically, it became impossible to deliver all these at the originally slated dates,” she said.

With just weeks to go to the election, there had been few signs of campaigning, and several opposition parties planned to boycott the vote, describing it as a “farce”.

The vote was originally planned for August last year but was postponed for the first time because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which was ruling the northern region at the time, had resisted the postponement and held its regional elections in September.

This was a factor that led to the conflict between the TPLF and the central government in Addis Ababa, which has been ongoing since early November.

The fighting in Tigray has killed thousands and led the United States to allege that “ethnic cleansing” against Tigrayans was being carried out in the western part of the region that is home to some six million.

The prime minister, who introduced sweeping political reforms after taking office in 2018 and won the Nobel Peace Prize the following year, has repeatedly promised that this election would be free and fair.

Abiy will keep his post if his Prosperity Party wins a majority of seats in the national assembly.

Peace increasing unlikely

Political analysts doubt that Ethiopia would hold peaceful elections.

William Davison of the International Crisis Group says a peaceful election in the conflict-ravaged Horn of Africa nation seems increasingly unlikely while unresolved grievances persist among nationalities and ethnic groups.

“The big problem is the level of violence we’re seeing across the country at this time, which looks like it is increasing in the run-up to the elections in early June,” Mr. Davidson told DW.

This applies particularly to the regional states of Benishangul-Gumuz and Oromia, the latter of which is the largest of Ethiopia’s nine administrative regions, and where insurgent activity has increased.

“It may prove difficult to hold elections in areas where the security situation is fragile,” Mr. Davidson said, adding violence is prone to escalate through increased attacks by ethnic militias.

“There are also logistical issues.  More than 56 million citizens eligible to vote are not registered to do so.”

Oromo, Tigray conflicts

According to Mr. Davison, the electoral board was initially unable to carry out voter registration in western Oromia.

Security issues also led to massive problems in Benishangul-Gumuz.

On Tigray, Mr. Davidson said: “There is a civil war going on in Tigray. There is a state of emergency, so there will be no elections in Tigray.”

He added: “There have also been delays in voter registration in the Afar and Somali regions, where there was recently a territorial dispute between regional paramilitary forces.”

As a result of the volatile situation, some opposition parties including the powerful Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) have boycotted the ballot.

Opposition parties accuse the government of arresting their leaders, intermediating between their members, and shutting down their offices.

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