Ethiopia election delayed again as critics cry foul

In the latest blow to Ethiopia’s democratic transition, the government has delayed the general election for a second time and postponed voting in Tigray and parts of Oromia and Amhara, putting the country's democratic reform project at risk, critics say.


Image : Amanuel Sileshi / AFP/AFP

Ethiopia postponed its parliamentary election again on Thursday due to security and logistical challenges, organisers said.

The country’s general election will now be held on June 21 as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed bids for a second term in office. But with polling further delayed in multiple areas that have experienced violence, and local elections postponed to an unspecified date, critics say the process will be incomplete.

Polling will be delayed in some areas that have seen outbreaks of violence, including parts of Oromia and Amhara, where officials have been unable to hold voter registration, the election board said. The government previously announced there will be no voting in the embattled Tigray region.

Crucial vote

The election will be the first major test for the ruling Prosperity Party’s democratic reform process and transition, analysts say.

But some opposition candidates say they will boycott the vote, and no viable challenger in the race poses a serious challenge to Abiy Ahmed, says Adem Kassie Abebe, a programme officer in the Constitution Building Program of International International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.

“Even if the elections succeed, under the circumstances and because of the insecurity, it will be an incomplete process,” he said on Wednesday before the latest round of delays.

With local elections also pushed back, the ruling party will maintain its grip on local government even if opposition parties make progress in the national polls, he added.

“Even if one of the opposition parties wins one of the regions, the local government will remain under the ruling party until local elections are held.”

As the government’s war against the Tigray insurgency enters its sixth month, Tigrayans accuse government forces of unleashing a campaign of mass killings, rape and political detention. The Ethiopian army denies the allegations.

After a disputed election victory in 2018, Ahmed impressed the international community with an ambitious domestic reform plan and a blueprint to transition the country from a regional to a federal state.

 “There was a massive expectation that the [2018] election would usher in a new era of hope. But the transition and reform within the ruling party didn’t go as smoothly as Abiy’s rise to power,” Abebe told a Chatham House virtual event that looked ahead to the election.  

The transition led to a rupture in the ruling party, with the the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), resisting the move, and splintering off as the EPRDF was replaced by the new Prosperity Party.

While key legal and institutional reforms did take place, a key part of the plan was a process of separating state and party, and liberating bureaucracy from political influence, he says.

“The transition within the party also split the Oromo elite and exacerbated some of the mistrust that was there. This breakdown had a ripple effect. There were certain key institutional and legal reforms that occurred, but largely that separation between the state and party never happened.”

The upcoming election will be the true test of the ruling party’s commitment to democratic reform, Abebe says.

“Ultimately whether this election will be seen as a success, depends on what the ruling party will do afterwards. Whether they will use their newfound, questionable legitimacy to lead a more meaningful engagement with opposition groups, or whether they will use the newfound confidence to crackdown harder. The choice that comes after the elections will determine whether or not the elections are a success.

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