ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia will hold a parliamentary election on June 5, the electoral board said on Friday, as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed seeks to quell political and ethnic violence in several regions.
Abiy’s Prosperity Party, a pan-Ethiopian movement he founded a year ago, faces challenges from increasingly strident ethnically-based parties seeking more power for their regions.
Africa’s second most populous nation has a federal system with 10 regional governments, many of which have boundary disputes with neighbouring areas or face low-level unrest.
In the northern Tigray region, thousands of people are believed to have died and 950,000 have fled their homes since fighting between regional and federal forces erupted on Nov. 4. Tigray held its own elections in September in defiance of the federal government, which declared the polls illegal.
The National Electoral Board said next year’s calendar for polls did not include an election in Tigray. It said the date for a Tigray vote would be set once an interim government, which was established during the conflict, opened election offices.
The national vote was postponed from August this year due to the coronavirus crisis. The head of the winning party becomes prime minister.
For nearly three decades until Abiy’s appointment, Ethiopia was ruled by a coalition of four ethnically-based movements dominated by the party from Tigray. That administration ruled in an increasingly autocratic fashion until Abiy took power in 2018 following years of bloody anti-government street protests.
The initial months after Abiy’s appointment saw a rush of political and economic reforms, including the release of tens of thousands of political prisoners.
Abiy merged three of the main regional parties last year to form the Prosperity Party. The fourth, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), refused to join.
Voter registration for the June vote would take place from March 1 to 30, the electoral board said.
Abiy’s peace deal with Eritrea, which won independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after years of conflict, helped earn him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019. But his moves to loosen the Ethiopian government’s iron grip was followed by outbreaks of violence as regional politicians and groups jostled for resources and power.
Abiy ordered troops to the western Benishangul-Gumuz region, which borders Sudan, on Thursday after attackers torched homes and killed more than 200 people in a village.
Some opposition members in the meeting recommended further postponement of the elections because of security concerns including recent attacks in Benshangul-Gumuz. But Birtukan advised them to get this thought out of their minds.
“We can’t wait and give time until all security issues are put under control,” she said.
On the day of the national elections, the NEBE also committed itself to hold a referendum for five zones and one special woreda in the Southern region that requested to form their own regional government. They presented their request to form a regional government called the Southwestern Peoples’ Regional State to the House of the Federation months ago. The House of the Federation directed the Board to conduct a referendum to decide on the statehood of these zones.
City administration level elections in Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa, however, are slated for July 12, 2021 because the polling stations in these cities are determined by the city councils. As these polling stations can be different from the national polling stations, it was explained, the Board decided to hold the elections at these administrative levels separately in order to avoid confusion.
The Board has also translated its laws to Oromiffa, Afar, Somali and Tigrigna languages so as to make them accessible and brail printing of the laws is underway. Apart from this, audio and video contents are being prepared to reach the disabled members of the society.
But the Board faced challenges in verifying the authenticity of party support signatures presented to them because of capacity limitations at local administrations. Hence, the party took samples from the signatures required for registration by the parties and sent them to local administrations for verification. The Board sampled 35 percent of these signatures to confirm their authenticity with local administrations and registered political parties.