Ethiopia is scheduled to hold general elections on June 5, 2021. The impending parliamentary and regional council elections come after the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) postponed the August 2020 date set due to COVID-19.
On top of electing representatives and building a democratic political system, the general elections will be the first major electoral test for the ruling Prosperity Party (PP) led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD), since its establishment in 2019 following the Tigray People’s Liberation Front’s (TPLF) split from the EPRDF coalition.
Despite concerns that led some politicians and analysts to call for its indefinite postponement until a national consensus through dialogue has successfully been reached, the NEBE continued with its preparations for the election mapping the more than 50,000 polling stations across the nation. It announced the schedule for candidate and voter registration, campaigning as well as the polling day.
Nevertheless, the elections will not take place in the Tigray region where fighting with TPLF forces is reportedly ongoing.
The process of organizing the election has not been smooth for the Board as regional governments delayed the preparation of important facilities such as offices and transport of logistics. Moreover, complaints still persist about security concerns as well as intimidation, harassment and detention of their candidates and members in various parts of the country. Another complaint by opposition parties is that the ruling party uses the state apparatus for its own end; campaign activities make up a notable instance of such deeds.
Opposition parties have complained about the uneven ground on the run up to the election and raised the volatile security situation in the country as an obstacle to free movement to galvanize support and address voters.
In this regard, two main opposition political parties in Oromia region, namely: the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), chaired by Merera Gudina (Prof.), and the Dawud Ibsa led splinter of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which split into two factions recently due to difference among leaders, announced that they will not be participating in the upcoming general elections.
Furthermore, Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice a.k.a. EZEMA announced recently that its candidates in the Oromia region were unable to register for the upcoming general elections, mainly due to the volatile security situation in the region, uncooperativeness of individuals tasked to register candidates and delays in opening registration offices in the region.
“The registration of our candidates has been disrupted in at least 46 election Weredas of the Oromia region and this shows that the incumbent i.e. Prosperity Party (PP) is planning to run alone,” the party said in a presser held last week.
In addition, it said the entire process of the election should be fair enough in the endeavor of building a democratic political system that accommodates different views.
“Our Party is skeptical about this process. In Oromia region, the move by the incumbent looks like it wants to run alone, a situation which is going to cost not only the election process, but also the nation,” said Wasyhun Tesfaye, head of Party Affairs of EZEMA.
The Board has so far organized around five consultative meetings with members of opposition political parties to discuss issues pertinent to the process of the election. Ironically, the questions raised on such platforms remain the same and mainly focus on the challenges they face in their efforts to reach voters.
These issues also made up the latest episode of such consultative meetings held on March 17, 2021 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. During the meeting, participants raised problems they encountered during the candidate registration period.
With just over 8,200 candidates registered, some participants warned, candidate registration is a far easier task compared to voter registration that is expected to feature about 50 million people. With such numerous irregularities witnessed during the candidate registration that features just a few thousand people, participants alarmed the Board on the huge task ahead.
Peace and security was a major concern for representatives of the opposition. In this regard, one of the opposition parties running for regional council seats in Benishangul Gumuz Region, Boro Democratic Party specifically raised questions related to the peace and security situation in the region and the fate of the internally displaced people.
“The security situation in the region is very difficult; it’s not possible to move from place to place. The region is under a state of emergency. We have concerns that such conditions might affect the election. So what is the Board going to do in this regard?” asked Yohannes Tesema, head of political affairs of the party.
The head of political affairs also asked about the fate of the displaced individuals in the region. “Since many individuals have been displaced following the conflict in different parts of the region, mainly in Metekel, how is the Board going to register them? Is there any plan to establish voter’s registration stations around the area where they are currently residing in? If not, what would be their fate in participating in the election?
While responding to questions, Chairwoman of the Board, Birtukan Mideksa admitted that the security situation in the region is a tough one but revealed that the Board is working very closely with the command post in an effort to alleviate the hurdles political parties might face.
Regarding the displaced individuals in the region, Birtukan said “Based on the information gathered from the command post established in the region, there is a possibility to establish voter registration stations in the areas where the displaced individuals are currently residing in.”
According to the timetable set by the Board, candidate registration has been completed and the Board is gearing up to start voter’s registration.
The final candidate registration list revealed that Prosperity Party (PP) is the only party running in all constituencies across the country, presenting a total of 2,432 candidates for both regional councils and federal (Parliamentary) seats. EZEMA is the runner up with 1,385 candidates.
Enat Party, National Movement of Amhara (NAMA), Freedom and Equality Party, All Ethiopian Unity Party (AEUP), Hibir Ethiopia Democratic Party, Ethiopian Social Democratic Party, Sidama Unity Party and Balderas for True Democracy, respectively, take the spots from third to tenth in terms of the number of candidates they have presented for the elections, according to data obtained from the Board.
Besides the challenges of insecurity and significant political shifts since 2018, the conflict in Tigray region also provides a difficult backdrop to organize national elections. To this end, many have suggested the Ethiopian government work tirelessly to maintain rule of law, mitigate ethnic and religious tensions in order to stage a successful election.