Ethiopians voted in a key parliamentary election on June 21, which took place amid war and hunger in the northern Tigray area, as well as doubts over the election’s integrity, with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed poised to retain power. It was the multiparty election in 16 years.
Police marched in full force in Addis Ababa over the weekend, and reinforcements were deployed around the country in preparation for the poll.
The election had been postponed twice, initially due to the coronavirus epidemic and again to allow additional time to organize the ballot throughout such a large country. To accommodate many of the districts that did not vote on Monday, a second round of voting will be held on September 6th.
Yet there is no election date established for Tigray, where UN agencies estimate that 350,000 people are facing hunger and atrocities.
Since November, when Abiy deployed soldiers there, pledging a speedy campaign to topple the governing party, the northernmost area has been controlled by an interim administration, which has 38 seats in the national parliament. The conflict has dragged on for seven months, tarnishing Abiy’s reputation as a mediator and casting a pall over an election intended to signal Ethiopia’s democratic intentions.
The election results will not be known for several days.
Ethiopia has long been split along ethnic and political lines, and the election was tainted by rising animosity amongst Ethiopia’s warring ethnic groups. Abiy, the 44-year-old prime minister and 2019 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is anticipated to be re-elected if his ruling Prosperity Party (PP) receives the most votes in the federal parliament. There have already been calls to have Abiy’s Nobel Prize stripped by the Nobel Assembly.
In April 2018, Abiy took over as Ethiopia’s prime minister when his predecessor, Hailemariam Desalegn, resigned as chairman of the ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).
Early in his rule, he made daring and progressive decisions, such as releasing political prisoners, criticizing their torture, and liberating imprisoned journalists, as well as shutting down a prominent maximum-security prison. He also received praise for his involvement in assisting in the negotiation of a power-sharing agreement in neighboring Sudan during a political crisis that resulted in the arrest of Omar al-Bashir, the country’s long-serving dictator.
However, Abiy’s enviable image was shattered when the August 2020 general election was controversially postponed. His administration blamed the postponed election on the raging Covid-19 epidemic, while the opposition accused him of cementing his power by postponing the country’s transition from an authoritarian to a completely democratic one.
Thousands of people are thought to have died as a result of Abiy’s military operations in Tigray. This has been assisted by forces from Eritrea, which are responsible for many extrajudicial murders and human rights violations in the region.
Regardless of Abiy’s anticipated win, the international world is unlikely to see the election as legitimate due to polling delays, continued violence in Tigray, and opposition boycotts.