Ethiopia delays national elections again amid deadly tensions
Ethiopia delayed the vote last year, the first major electoral test for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, citing the COVID-19 pandemic. This heightened tensions with leaders in the Tigray region, who said Abiy’s tenure had ended and defiantly held a regional vote of their own that Ethiopia called illegal.
Since then, the war in Tigray has claimed thousands of lives and led the United States to claim that “ethnic cleansing” against the Tigrayans was underway in the western part of Tigray, an area of some 6 million people. . The term “ethnic cleansing” refers to forcing a population to leave an area through expulsions and other violence, often including murder and rape.
The prime minister, who introduced sweeping political reforms after taking office in 2018 and won the Nobel Peace Prize the following year, has repeatedly vowed that this election will be free and fair. Abiy will retain his post if his Prosperity Party wins the majority of seats in the National Assembly.
The European Union recently said it would not observe the vote, saying Ethiopia had failed to guarantee the independence of its mission and had refused its requests to allow the import of communications equipment. . Ethiopia responded that outside observers “are neither essential nor necessary to certify the credibility of an election.”
Meanwhile, sometimes deadly ethnic tensions in other parts of the country of some 110 million people have led some to wonder how the election will be conducted, and the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress has withdrawn further. early this year of the vote. Several of its leaders are still behind bars after a wave of violence sparked last year by the murder of a popular musician from Omoro.
At the end of last month, five U.S. senators wrote to U.S. special envoy to the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, expressing concerns about Ethiopia’s ability to hold fair elections as the conflict in Tigray continues.
In response, the Ethiopian National Election Committee said it was “trying” to ensure freedom of the ballot. “Deficits are inevitable given such factors as the size of the population, development deficits at all levels, an emerging democratic culture and an increasingly charged political and security environment,” he said.
“We are deeply concerned about the growing political and ethnic polarization across the country,” the State Department said Friday.
Ethiopia’s electoral council said about 36.2 million people have registered to vote. It was hoped that up to 50 million would.