First modification: 06/21/2021 – 14:31
More than 37 million Ethiopians are called to the polls in the general elections this Monday. The party of the current prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, starts as the favorite to claim his parliamentary majority, which could guarantee him 5 more years in power. A leader who prides himself on restoring democracy in the African country, but who faces strong international criticism for the war in the Tigray region, outbreaks of ethnic violence and famine.
Ethiopia, the second most populous country in Africa, is putting its democracy to the test. Twice postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the legislative and regional elections scheduled for August 2020 are finally held this Monday, June 21.
This is the campaign promise of Abiy Ahmed, the 44-year-old prime minister who came to power in 2018 with a proposal for democratic renewal after decades of authoritarianism. In his words, this Monday’s session is “the nation’s first attempt to hold free and fair elections” in its history.
His Prosperity Party (PP), a fusion of political corners from the previous ruling coalition, is running for a majority of the House seats, which would ensure that Ahmed extends his power for another five years.
And it is that Abiy Ahmed arrived in 2018, as a result of three years of street protests that led to the resignation of the then prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn. Since his appointment, Ahmed has implemented political and economic reforms to liberalize a country subjected to severe controls. However, these reforms exposed tense ethnic divisions in a country of more than 100 million people.
“We need a government that brings us peace, unity and puts an end to killing everywhere, and we also need to be pulled out of these ethnic divisions,” voter Desalgn Shume said Monday.
Among the parties that did not accept to be part of the government proposed by Abiy Ahmed is the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (FPLT), whose rebellion led to a civil war that erupted in November 2020.
The Tigray war that clouds the elections
Those who radically opposed Ahmed’s reforms were political leaders from Tigray, the northern region of Ethiopia. After months of rebellion against the federal government, in November 2020 they were attacked by government troops who traveled from Addis Ababa, for allegedly attacking a military base.
The military operations were justified by Abiy Ahmed as a necessity to “restore the rule of law and constitutional order and protect the rights of Ethiopians to live in peace in any part of the country.” However, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray accused Ahmed of having invented the attack on the military base to legitimize an “invasion” in their territories.
The war in the vicinity of Mekele, the capital of Tigray, has brought with it massacres, rapes, thousands of deaths and nearly two million displaced people. A war that put Abiy Ahmed in the international spotlight, who paradoxically won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, for his efforts to get Ethiopia to sign peace with neighboring Eritrea, after twenty years of conflict.
On Monday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said she was “deeply disturbed” by reports of ongoing rapes in the Tigray region, and that there were “credible reports” that Eritrean soldiers were continuing there, despite the promise to leave.
For its part, the UN assures that around 350,000 people in this region suffer from a deep famine.
The boycott of various political parties to the Ethiopian elections
Of the 547 deputies that Ethiopia elects today, at least 63 will be temporarily deserted, as reported by the Ethiopian National Electoral Board (NEBE). The organism denounced that these seats of the parliament will not be able to be occupied yet, since several regions of the country present irregularities, difficulties with the ballots or security problems.
So until next September, the elections will resume in the Harari and Somali regions and in dozens of districts in the regions of Benishangul-Gumuz, Oromia, Amhara and the Region of the Nations and Nationalities of the Peoples of the South.
But the truth is that there have been many ethnic opposition parties that have boycotted the elections promoted by Abiy Ahmed. According to them, the idea of an Ethiopian citizenship that is sold from Addis Ababa goes against the pluralism of ethnic groups in the country of the Horn of Africa. They have also alleged manipulation and obstruction in their campaigns.
Among the parties resisting the elections, two major affiliations stand out from the Oromia region, the most populous in Ethiopia. Both the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) accuse the Ahmed government of having imprisoned several of their leaders and candidates.
“If the current government needs to heal Ethiopia as a nation, what it should do is initiate an inclusive national dialogue,” said OFC President Merera Gudina, who also predicted that the general elections will not resolve the political chaos that the country is experiencing.
A political and social scenario that worries the international community. Both the United States and the European Union have expressed their discontent over what is happening in Ethiopia, a country that acts as a heavyweight in the Horn of Africa region, and whose instability affects its neighboring countries.