Following the decision by the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) to postpone the 2021 polls in certain constituencies along with a referendum in the Southwestern part of the country that would lead to the birth of the 11th regional state, zonal administrations in the Southwest have expressed discontent over the Board’s decision.
Five zones and one special woreda in the Southwestern part of the Southern Region have been readying for the referendum as they decided to break away from the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region and form a separate regional state. Although all the five zones decided in their zonal councils to form their own regional states based on the constitutional provision, they later agreed to form a region together with their adjacent zonal administrations to later get the greenlight from the House of the Federation to hold the referendum. This would lead to the transfer of power from the existing region to the new region.
The decision to postpone this referendum to September 6, 2021 followed announcement by the board of flaws in the printing of ballot papers leading to postponement of polls in 31 different constituencies.
This was an affirmation of earlier fears by election officers who were not given trainings on the manners of conducting the referendum. Poll workers who talked to The Reporter anonymously because of the non-disclosure agreement they entered with the NEBE were concerned about how they would conduct the elections in a situation where they did not even see what the ballot papers for the referendum look like.
Birtukan Mideksa, the chairwoman of the Board, admitted that the decision was made earlier because some constituencies in the referendum areas need to be represented in the process. She also added that this had been communicated with the concerned administrative bodies, the referendum project office and political parties in the concerned area.
She also said that the decision was made based on previous security assessments in Dizi, Zelmam special, Majet regular, and Key Afer regular constituencies where the Board decided to hold the elections on another schedule.
“These places, one way or another, are linked to the voters deciding in the referendum. Also, because these places have areas delayed for security reasons and the votes from people in these areas are important, the Board believed earlier that the polls will not go ahead,” she explained.
However, the relevant bodies have been consulted repeatedly of the issue where they propagated similar beliefs resulting in our final decision, she added.
But Mitiku Bedru, the head of the project office for the coordination of Southwestern referendum, disputes this claim and argues that the decision was a news for them too.
“We have asked the Board for clarity as administrations in the Southwest are complaining about it demanding the conduct of the referendum on the original schedule,” he told The Reporter.
According to him, the discussion they had with the Board was only concerning three or four constituencies where political parties complained of security issues. The discussions involved the opposition political parties, the project office executives, and the ruling party leadership and they had reached an agreement to work together because those concerned constituencies want the realization of the separate regional state.
“They are referring to this discussion and I have no knowledge of the postponement,” he said.
Officials from the project office, political party representatives and the zonal administrations have come to Addis Ababa to discuss the matter with the Board.
Frustrations on the decision have already started to show on social media with some even declaring they want to return their voter registration card. In addition, zonal administrations and ruling party leaders issued statements condemning the decision by the Board.
Kaffa Zone Prosperity Party office head, Endeshaw Kebede, said that the decision made by the Board to postpone the referendum has no base and is inconsiderate of the needs of the people. He pointed out that the decision, which came after awareness creation campaigns and preparations were underway for the success of the referendum, has saddened the people.
“As it is an irresponsible decision, we request the Board to reassess the decision and hold the referendum on the originally planned day of June 21, 2021,” said a statement from Endeshaw posted on Kaffa Zone Government Communications Affairs Office Facebook page.
On the other hand, Fikre Aman, the administrator of Bench Sheko Zone, one of the zones expecting the referendum, also issued a statement saying, “while it is possible for us to hold the general elections, there could not be any reason to not conduct the Southwestern region referendum.”
He also called for the Board to reconsider its decisions and conduct the referendum on the originally scheduled day.
Dawuro zone also issued similar statements.
As a result, concerns are growing that emotions have started to run high and this could humper the conduct of the 2021 general elections, some in the Southwest including the project head believe.