Ethiopians voted in crisis polls amid conflict and apathy
After some thought, Shimelis Yohannes * decided to register to vote in Ethiopia’s backlog. General elections to be held on Monday.
“I took a ballot because it’s better than participating in the elections,” said the official in the capital, Addis Ababa. But, he quickly adds, there is no illusion about a vote that has been overshadowed by conflict in the northern Tigray region, instability elsewhere and widespread apathy.
“I don’t think my vote will change anything or decide Ethiopia’s future direction, but at least I can tell myself that I did my best,” says Yohannes, who will be supporting a party in Ethiopia. ‘opposition.
While among the 38 million people who have registered to vote in national and regional parliamentary polls, Bruk Gemechu *, who lives in the town of Shashemene, is about 250 kilometers (155 miles) southeast of Addis Ababa says it will abstain.
Private sector professional says his Oromia region, Ethiopia’s largest, lacks credible opposition parties to compete with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Prosperity Party (PP) after the two parties most popular policies: the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and Oromo. . Federalist Congress (OFC) – decided to boycott the polls. The parties allege the elections lack legitimacy, alleging the inability to compete while high-level party leaders and members are behind bars and other members are subjected to physical violence.
“Local PP officials have forced vulnerable sectors of society to withdraw voter cards and are currently threatening them with sanctions if they vote for the few candidates from other opposition parties,” Gemechu said.
Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromos, who make up about 35% of the country’s over 110 million people, has been at the forefront of two and a half years of anti-government protests that brought Abiy to power . in April 2018.
Yet Abiy has since fallen with many leaders of the Oromo youth movement. Several leading members of the OFC, including Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba, remain behind bars, accused of terrorism in connection with the riots that took place last year in the assassination of musician and popular Oromo activist Hachalu Hundessa.
The PP insists, however, that the elections will be free and fair, a historic first in Ethiopia. Monday’s poll will be the sixth since the overthrow of the Communist government of Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991. The previous five polls, all won by the already disjointed Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Party quadripartite alliance, have been marred by allegations of fraud and irregularities.
“The ruling party is very prepared to exercise democracy… and the citizens are very enthusiastic,” says Bikila Wolde of the PP. “While there are these opportunities, the challenges are also very clear, as Ethiopia has a long history of a highly polarized political system, known to dictatorial regimes. Modern and civilized political exercises are rare in this country. “
Although the ruling party announces the vote, initially scheduled for 2020, but which is postponed first due to the coronavirus pandemic and then due to logistical challenges, such as whether to lower the temperature of the political environment polarized, some fear it may have the opposite effect.
An analyst in Addis Ababa, who declined to be named citing the politically charged environment, said the polls would be passed amid rising COVID-19 cases and lobster infestations, as well as ” an economy in ruins and conflicts in the Tigray region which has left the region totally dependent on humanitarian aid ”.
The seven-month war in Tigray is estimated to have killed thousands, if not more, and displaced some two million, with the United Nations warning this week that 350,000 people are suffering from starvation.
“The Ethiopian army which was supposed to be responsible for transporting electoral materials is linked to the conflict in Tigray, as well as to fighting against insurgents in various parts of the regional states of Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz,” said the analyst. . “I find it inconceivable that the PP is gaining electoral legitimacy thanks to the polls at this time.”
Recognizing the logistical and security challenges facing various parts of Ethiopia, the Ethiopian National Electoral Council (NEBE) revealed earlier this month that voting will not take place in nearly a fifth of the 547 districts. from Ethiopia.
NEBE said voting in non-participating constituencies next week will continue on September 6, but Tigray (with 38 seats) is ruled out indefinitely for now.
“I only see one constituency represented at the polls; it’s the urban elites and the Amhara region, ”the analyst said.
While the PP is the leader in winning the majority of seats, it is expected to face a serious electoral challenge in Addis Ababa and the Amhara region, Ethiopia’s second most populous population.
Several opposition figures have already publicly revealed that acceptance of the results is conditional on the fairness of the vote count.
In 2005, a police crackdown on unarmed demonstrators who took to the streets of Addis Ababa to denounce electoral irregularities left nearly 200 dead, as well as six police officers.
Yohannes and the analyst shared their concerns about possible post-election violence in the two areas considered to be the most electorally competitive, but Abiy said at his last campaign rally on Wednesday that the polls would be peaceful.
“Everyone says we’ll fight, but we’ll show them differently,” Abiy told Jimma City fans. “I say to all Ethiopians [engaged] in the struggle to ensure a peaceful, democratic and prosperous Ethiopia, ”added the Prime Minister, who in early June accused“ traitors ”and“ outsiders ”of working to undermine Ethiopia.
On Saturday, less than 48 hours before the polling stations opened, police officers from downtown Addis Ababa took part in a parade attended by senior government officials to display the new uniforms of the police force.
For the analyst, even if fears of post-election violence do not materialize, the near-term future of post-election Ethiopia will not be rosy.
“I do not see the election changing nor the deteriorating security environment nor the increasing pressure from parts of the international community,” the analyst said.
“I see the military standoff in Tigray between the rebels and the Ethiopian army, with the support of forces from Eritrea and the neighboring region of Amhara, continuing for the time being as the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate. deteriorate and the frustrated Oromo youth continue to join the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) rebel movements, ”added the analyst.
“The fragmented sanctions imposed by Western countries are likely to increase (in relation to the Tigray War), with effects that will first affect the lower economic class of society before it reaches senior government officials.” . “
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