ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia
The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) had announced four campaign-silent days that began Thursday as the nation is set to conduct its sixth parliamentary and regional councils’ elections on June 21.
The administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed already expressed a commitment to give the nation of more than 112 million a free, fair, and credible election that will set it on the path to democracy as the previous five elections failed to accomplish.
But already there have been political parties that withdrew based on misgivings about the intent of the government such as the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) and Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).
Conflict situations, particularly in the northernmost region of Tigray, have cast a shadow on the electoral atmosphere.
Following are the basic facts that one needs to know about the election.
Twice delayed parliamentary election
The polls were originally scheduled for August 2020 but were delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic and were slated for June 5, 2020.
The NEBE later announced that due to administrative and logistical problems the June 5 polls were postponed to June 21.
2nd round voting
The NEBE announced June 6 that due to irregularities in printing ballot papers, elections in Harari and Somali states will be held in a second round Sept. 6.
Voting would not take place in the war-torn Tigray region and conflict-prone localities in the western and central Oromia region and Metekel zone in Benishangul Gumuz regional state. In total, 78 of the 547 constituencies will not vote June 21.
According to NEBE, votes in Somali and Harar will be conducted and results will be announced before the formation of a new government in September while the Tigray vote depends on the drastic improvement of the security situation.
Voters, candidates, electoral system
Of the 50 million eligible voters of 112 million in the Horn of Africa nation, 37.4 million are registered to vote. Nearly 50% are female. There are 49,407 voting stations and 23,000 workers have been recruited and trained to facilitate the polls.
Voters will elect 547 members of the federal parliament and local councils in 10 regional states.
Pan Ethiopian national parties and regional parties that constitute the majority of competing political organizations are vying for the federal and regional parliament. But the majority of political parties are regional representing their ethnic groups.
Forty-seven parties and 125 independent contenders have fielded 9,300 candidates and nearly 2,000 are female.
According to the NEBE, this was the highest number of candidates in any election.
The electoral system requires a simple majority to form a government and the leader of the winning party becomes prime minister.
Ethiopians have gone to the polls every five years since the fall of a military junta headed by Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991.
The now-defunct Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), dominated by the outlawed TPLF had won five elections marred by widespread rigging and suppression.
In 2005, opposition coalition, Kinjit, won more than 100 seats in the federal parliament and Addis Ababa. But following post-election violence, EPRDF detained leaders of the opposition and closed the doors on the promising multi-party elections.
In the following election in 2015, EPRDF won every seat in the 547-member parliament and moved the country to an authoritarian one-party system that displayed high-level rights violations and the detention of opposition figures and journalists. Social and economic injustices and rampant corruption were trademarks of the regime.
Significance of election
The state of affairs triggered mass unrest and resulted in the rise of Abiy Ahmed to prime minister in 2018.
Ahmed, a reformist, had promised to conduct fair and free elections and reform the electoral board that was accused of being a state instrument in previous elections. He also selected a former opposition figure to head the NEBE.
The elections are the first electoral test for Ahmed after leading the country for three tumultuous years.
In March, the OLF, one of the oldest opposition parties in Ethiopia, pulled out of the elections alleging the detention of some of its leaders and the closure of its offices by the government.
The government denied the accusations of OLF that had been embroiled in internal squabbles and divisions.
The other Oromo party, the OFC, also withdrew in March citing similar accusations in the Oromia region from where Ahmed hails.
Earlier last week, five regional and national parties alleged that the elections “had failed to live up to the minimum requirements of free and fair elections.” However, they decided to remain in the race.
NEBE dismissed the complaints saying the ongoing process had been proceeding per the legal and standards of credible elections.
Observers, international opinions
The electoral board certified 36 civil society organizations. In addition to NEBE’s observers, 134,000 observers will be deployed.
African Union observers will monitor the polls.
In April, the EU decided to send an election observation mission to monitor the polls despite the ongoing war in the northern Tigray province.
However, in May, the EU scrapped plans to send observers after its demand for V-SAT communication equipment was turned down by the government. But later, the EU announced it would send a four-member technical team — long-term observers — to the election.
US-based National Democratic Institute is also one of the observers.
The US administration of Joe Biden, which has been leading global pressure on the Ethiopian government, had been insisting on dialogue with the TPLF and the formation of “an inclusive political process” aimed at forming a transitional political arrangement and a transitional government before elections. The government refused the US demand and proceeded with the elections.
However, last week. the US changed its stance and recognized the election and demanded an inclusive national dialogue to be conducted after the elections.
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