Ethiopia to vote as PM vows fair election

AAPAAP
Ethiopia's leader Abiy Ahmed (c) is expected to retain power in the country's upcoming election.
Camera IconEthiopia's leader Abiy Ahmed (c) is expected to retain power in the country's upcoming election. Credit: AP

Ethiopians are set to vote in a landmark election overshadowed by reports of famine in the country's war-hit Tigray region and beset by logistical problems that mean some people will not be able to cast their ballot until September.

Monday's election is the centrepiece of a reform drive by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, whose rise to power in 2018 seemed to signal a break with decades of authoritarian rule and led to his Nobel Peace Prize the following year.

He has described the poll as "the nation's first attempt at free and fair elections".

Abiy's ruling Prosperity Party, formed in 2019 by merging groups who made up the previous ruling coalition, is widely expected to cement its hold on power.

"We will secure Ethiopia's unity," Abiy said ahead of his final campaign rally on Wednesday, repeating his vow of a free and fair election.

But opposition groups have accused Ethiopia's ruling party of harassment, manipulation and threats of violence that echo abuses of the past.

And Abiy is facing growing international criticism over the war in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region.

Thousands of civilians have been killed and more than two million displaced since fighting broke out in November between Ethiopian forces, backed by ones from neighbouring Eritrea, and those supporting the now-fugitive Tigray leaders.

Last week, humanitarian agencies warned that 350,000 people in Tigray are on the brink of famine.

Ethiopia's government has rejected the figure and says food aid has reached 5.2 million in the region of six million.

No date has been set for voting in Tigray's 38 constituencies, where military personnel who usually play a key role in transporting election materials across Africa's second-most populous country are busy with the conflict.

Meanwhile, voting has been postponed until September in 64 out of 547 constituencies throughout Ethiopia because of insecurity, defective ballot papers and opposition allegations of irregularities.

Some prominent opposition parties are boycotting the election. Others say they have been prevented from campaigning.

"There have been gross violations," Yusef Ibrahim, vice president of the National Movement of Amhara, said earlier this month, claiming his party had been "effectively banned" from campaigning in several regions, with party members arrested and banners destroyed.

Neither officials with the Prosperity Party nor Abiy's office responded to requests for comment.

On Sunday, five opposition parties released a joint statement saying campaigning outside the capital, Addis Ababa, "has been marred by serious problems, including killings, attempted killings and beatings of candidates".

Two prominent opposition parties, the Oromo Liberation Front and the Oromo Federalist Congress, are boycotting the vote.

"It's going to be a sham election," OFC chairman Merera Gudina said earlier this month.

That means the Prosperity Party will face little competition in Oromia, Ethiopia's most populous state.

There are growing international concerns over whether the elections will be fair.

The European Union has said it will not observe the vote after its requests to import communications equipment were denied.

In response, Ethiopia said external observers "are neither essential nor necessary to certify the credibility of an election", although it has since welcomed observers deployed by the African Union.

Last week the US State Department said it is "gravely concerned about the environment under which these upcoming elections are to be held" citing "detention of opposition politicians, harassment of independent media, partisan activities by local and regional governments, and the many interethnic and inter-communal conflicts across Ethiopia".

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