Draped in a sacred white cloth, the procession drifted silently to a priest calling the faithful to celebrate Archangel Michael, a revered saint of Ethiopia.
Towards dawn, thousands of worshipers gathered at the church in Amhara, Ethiopia’s second-largest region, which is holding the long-awaited election on Monday.
Devotees, some leaning on reeds and others holding children, offered prayers to St. Michael in a church bearing his name and crowned with metal crosses and a tall Ethiopian flag in the city of Bahir Dar.
“This is a great day for us … For our faith, we pray to St. Michael to bring us peace and protect us from evil,” said Huluager Kinde, a 27-year-old worshiper.
Leaving the church, Ebabu Tsega, with his forehead marked with a cross drawn in ash, said the vow was “essential” for Ethiopia.
“I am very happy to go to the polls because I will choose those who will lead and represent me,” the 29-year-old primary school teacher said.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who rose to power in 2018 following popular protests against the government, vowed to hold Ethiopia’s most competitive elections to date.
Monday marks his first election test since the prime minister undertook a series of democratic and economic reforms.
But many voters – including parts of Amhara – will have to wait until September to vote, with elections postponed to about a fifth of Ethiopia’s constituencies due to unrest and logistical problems.
In Tigray, the war-torn region, next to Amhara, there will be no election.
Gulilat Worku, another worshiper at Bahir Dar church, hoped voters would “peacefully accept” the result of Monday’s poll.
“We urge all Ethiopians to participate in the elections and accept the results,” the 34-year-old doctoral student said.