Political parties that will participate in Ethiopia’s twice-delayed polls next week have ended their election campaign, with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed predicting the country will successfully hold a peaceful vote.
The June 21 election will come at a time of widespread ethnic unrest and economic challenges, as well as a months-long conflict in the northern Tigray region where the United Nations warns at least 350,000 people are facing to starvation. Opposition parties in other key regions have said they will boycott the elections, the sixth since the overthrow of the communist government of Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991.
“The whole world says we will fight but we will show them differently,” Abiy said on Wednesday at his first and last rally at a crowded stadium in the southern city of Jimma.
“The forces that saved Ethiopia from collapse will make the Horn of Africa the energy hub of Africa,” he added, wearing sunglasses and a tuxedo made from fabrics. traditional premises.
“I say to all Ethiopians (engaged) in the struggle to ensure a peaceful, democratic and prosperous Ethiopia: as long as Ethiopians stand together in one mind and one heart, there is no force on earth that can stop us, ”he said, speaking in a mixture of his mother tongue – Afan Oromo, the language of the region – and the national Amharic language.
Abiy’s Prosperity Party has the highest number of candidates in the national parliamentary elections and is the clear favorite to win, with a wide reach unmatched by other political parties.
For the 44-year-old man, Monday’s elections are an opportunity to win a popular mandate after coming to power in 2018 after years of anti-government protests.
After his appointment, Abiy pledged to reform the government and adopt democratic reforms, with the end goal being free and fair elections – a historic first – by 2020.
But in March last year, citing the risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s electoral body announced it would postpone the poll for a year. The move angered much of the country’s political opposition, who accused the ruling party of using the pandemic as an excuse to illegally extend its term, an allegation the government denied.
A second week-long postponement was announced last month due to logistical issues, including training election officials and printing and distributing ballots.
Despite being billed as a national ballot, Monday’s vote will not take place in nearly a fifth of the country’s 547 constituencies, including Tigray’s 38 seats and another 64 across the country of some 110 million. people. The majority of deferred votes are slated for September 6, but no date has yet been set for Tigray, where more than five million people are in need of emergency food assistance.
Abiy ordered a military ground and air operation in Tigray in early November 2020 after accusing the then ruling party in the region, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF), of orchestrating attacks on camps in the region. Federal Army, an allegation rejected by TPLF officials.
Abiy, whose forces are backed by Eritrean troops and fighters from Ethiopia’s Amhara region, declared victory in late November when the army entered the regional capital, Mekelle. Fighting, however, continues and reports of massacres, rapes and widespread starvation continue to emerge.
The United States, historically an ally of Ethiopia but an increasingly vocal critic as the Tigray conflict dragged on, has expressed concern over the conditions under which the vote will take place.
The detention of prominent opposition leaders and the ethnic conflicts raging in the country constitute “obstacles to a free and fair electoral process and to the question of whether Ethiopians would perceive them as credible,” said last week State Department spokesman Ned Price.
“The exclusion of large segments of the electorate from this competition due to security concerns and internal displacement is particularly disturbing,” he added.
The European Union said in May it would not send observers to the polls, citing the inability to reach agreement with the government on basic issues such as communications and observer independence.
The Oromo Federalist Congress and the Oromo Liberation Front – two of the most important parties in Oromia, the most populous region of the country – withdrew from the race, complaining that their candidates have been arrested and that their offices have been shut down. vandalized.
But supporters of opposition parties participating in the upcoming polls on Wednesday have taken to the streets of the capital, Addis Ababa, crowding into city squares and blocking traffic with noisy parades, chanting and dancing.
The Balderas party, whose leader is behind bars, marched through the city center in a raucous procession led by men on horseback dragged by a convoy of deafening loudspeakers.
“We are mobilizing for the people, even though we do not believe this vote will be entirely free or fair,” said Zebiba Ibrahim, a 25-year-old candidate running for the opposition party.
“We do our best to make sure our voice is heard. “
In Meskel Square in the heart of the capital, another opposition party, Ezema, gathered supporters wrapped in Ethiopian flags and chanting slogans for a final rally.
“In the previous election, you couldn’t do rallies, you couldn’t do anything,” said Temesgen Getahun, a 37-year-old hotel worker who watches the festivities nearby.
“If you took to the streets, you were jailed so… given these elections, this one is fine. “