After some consideration, Shimelis Yohannes * decided to register to vote in Ethiopia’s backlog. general elections to be held on Monday.
“I took a ballot because it’s better than running in the elections,” the capital’s official, Addis Ababa, said. But, he quickly adds, he has no illusions about a vote that has been overshadowed by the conflict in the northern Tigray region, instability elsewhere and widespread apathy.
“I don’t think my vote will change anything or decide the future direction of Ethiopia, but at least I can tell myself that I tried my best,” says Yohannes, who will support an opposition party.
While among the 38 million people who have registered to vote in national and regional parliamentary polls, Bruk Gemechu *, who lives in the city of Shashemene, is about 250 kilometers (155 miles) southeast of Addis Ababa says it will abstain.
The private sector professional says his region of Oromia, Ethiopia’s largest, has no credible opposition parties to compete with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Prosperity Party (PP) after the two political parties most popular ethnic oroms: the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the Oromo. Federalist Congress (OFC) – decided to boycott the polls. The parties allege that the elections have no legitimacy, alleging the impossibility of competing while high-profile party leaders and members are behind bars and other members are subjected to physical violence.
“Local PP cadres had been forcing vulnerable sectors of society to remove voter registration cards and are currently threatening them with punishment if they vote for the few candidates from other opposition parties,” Gemechu alleged.
Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, Oromos, who make up about 35 percent of the country’s more than 110 million people, were at the forefront of two-and-a-half years of anti-government protests that brought Abiy to power. in April 2018.
Still, Abiy has since fallen with many of the leaders of the Oromo youth movement. Several leading members of the OFC, including Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba, remain behind bars accused of terror in connection with the riots that took place last year in the assassination of popular Oromo musician and activist Hachalu Hundessa.
The PP, however, insists that the elections will be free and fair, a first historic story in Ethiopia. Monday’s polls will be the sixth since the overthrow of the communist government of Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991. The previous five contests, all won by the four-party alliance of the already disarticulated Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Party, were marred by allegations of fraud and irregularities.
“The ruling party is very prepared to exercise democracy … and the citizens are very eager,” says Bikila Wolde, of the PP. “Although there are these opportunities, the challenges are also very clear, as Ethiopia has a highly polarized political system for a long time, known to dictatorial regimes. Modern and civilized political exercises are scarce in this country. “
Although the ruling party announces the vote, initially scheduled for 2020, but which is postponed first due to the coronavirus pandemic and then due to logistical challenges, such as an opportunity to lower the temperature of the polarized political environment, some fear which may have the opposite effect.
An analyst in Addis Ababa, who did not want to be named citing the politically charged environment, says the polls will pass amid rising COVID-19 cases and lobster invasions, as well as “an economy that is in ruins and conflicts in the Tigray region that has left the region totally dependent on humanitarian aid ”.
The seven-month war in Tigray is estimated to have killed thousands, if not more, and displaced some two million, with the United Nations warning this week that 350,000 are suffering from starvation.
“The Ethiopian army that was supposed to be in charge of transporting election material is linked to the Tigray conflict, as well as to fighting insurgents in various parts of the regional states of Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz,” the analyst said. . “I find it inconceivable that the PP will gain electoral legitimacy from the polls at this time.”
Recognizing the logistical and security challenges facing various parts of Ethiopia, the Ethiopian National Electoral Board (NEBE) revealed earlier this month that voting will not take place in nearly one-fifth of the 547 districts. of Ethiopia.
NEBE has said voting in non-participating constituencies next week will continue on September 6, but Tigray (with 38 seats) is excluded indefinitely for now.
“I only see one constituency represented at the polls; these are the urban elites and the Amhara region, ”the analyst said.
While the PP is the leader in winning the majority of seats, it is expected to face a serious electoral challenge in Addis Ababa and the Amhara region, Ethiopia’s second most populous population.
Already several opposition figures have publicly disclosed that acceptance of the results is conditional on the vote count being fair.
In 2005, a police crackdown on unarmed protesters who took to the streets of Addis Ababa to denounce election irregularities left nearly 200 protesters dead, as well as six police officers.
Both Yohannes and the analyst shared their concerns about possible post-election violence in the two areas considered the most electorally competitive, but Abiy said on Wednesday in his latest campaign rally that the polls will be peaceful.
“Everyone says we’ll fight, but we’ll show them differently,” Abiy told Jimma City fans. “I tell all Ethiopians [engaged] in the struggle to ensure a peaceful, democratic and prosperous Ethiopia, “added the prime minister, who in early June had accused” traitors “and” outsiders “of working to undermine Ethiopia.
On Saturday, less than 48 hours before the opening of the polls, police officers from downtown Addis Ababa took part in a parade attended by senior government officials to display the new police force uniforms.
For the analyst, even if fears of post-election violence do not materialize, the short-term future of post-election Ethiopia will not be rosy.
“I don’t see the election changing either the deteriorating security environment or the growing pressure from parts of the international community,” the analyst said.
“I see the military stalemate in the Tigray between the rebels and the Ethiopian army, with the support of forces from Eritrea and the neighboring Amhara region, continues for now as the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate and the Oromo’s frustrated youth continue to join the outlawed Oromo Liberation Army (OLA)) rebel movement, ”the analyst added.
“Fragmented sanctions by Western nations are likely to increase (in relation to the Tigray war), with effects that will first affect society’s lower economic class before it reaches high-level government officials.”
* The name has been changed to protect your identity