Ethiopia’s 2021 election: Ethiopians go to the polls amid famine and raging humanitarian crisis

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is preparing for his first real test in the polls, in what will be Ethiopia’s first multi-party election in 16 years.

Ethiopia has long been divided along ethnic and political lines, and growing mistrust between its warring ethnic groups puts the upcoming elections on shaky ground in the East African powerhouse, which has more than 100 million people.

Abiy, the 44-year-old prime minister, recipient of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, is expected to be re-elected if his ruling Prosperity Party (PP) receives the highest votes in the federal parliament.

Abiy’s ballot chances have apparently improved following recent moves by some opposition figures to boycott the election, citing government crackdown on prominent rivals.

“Abiy’s government blocked free and fair elections by jailing opposition leaders, creating frivolous ‘competitors’ and leaving no room for truly competitive elections. ” says Gudina Merera, the leader of the Oromo Federalist Congress, a party representing the Oromo people, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group.
“As we have insisted, any democratic election must take place after a meaningful national dialogue, the release of all political prisoners and the opening of our forcibly closed offices throughout Oromia. We will not participate in a mock election and give it legitimacy, “Merera wrote on Twitter.
Many opposition figures in Oromo were held by the government since the murder of a popular Oromo singer by unknown gunmen last year sparked massive unrest in the region.
The US State Department said in a declaration last week he “is gravely concerned about the environment” in which the Ethiopian elections will take place.
Balderas Party and Prosperity Party campaign billboards displayed in the Piassa neighborhood on June 14 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

“The detention of opposition politicians, the harassment of the independent media … and the numerous inter-ethnic and inter-communal conflicts across Ethiopia are obstacles to a free and fair electoral process …” the statement read.

Among the 47 parties participating in the legislative and regional elections, the Abiy Prosperity Party leads the ranking in the number of registered candidates vying for seats in parliament with a total of 2,432 aspirants. This is closely followed by a rival party, Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice, which fielded 1,385 candidates for election, where about 37 million of the 109 million Ethiopians registered on the electoral rolls.

However, many Ethiopians living in conflict zones will have to wait until September to vote, when the second ballot takes place.

How is Abiy doing?

Abiy took the reins from the Ethiopian Prime Minister in April 2018 following the resignation of his predecessor, Hailemariam Desalegn, who relinquished his presidency of the then ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

The leader of Ethiopia’s ruling party is empowered by the country’s constitution to become prime minister.

The EPRDF coalition, made up of four political parties, dominated Ethiopian politics from 1991 to 2019. Abiy, who succeeded Desalegn as president of the EPRDF, would later introduce sweeping reforms, with his party reflected in political reshuffle.

He was the first Galla lead his country. The Oromo had never held important positions of power. Grievances of their economic and political exclusion have led to anti-government protests across the country.
In 2019, Abiy led the disbandment and merger of the four-member EPRDF into the Prosperity Party he created – a move perceived as a conspiracy to reduce regional powers and centralize power within the federal government.
Fusion was rejected by one of the dominant coalition parties, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF), resulting in a conflict that would claim thousands of lives and move over a million.
Abiy came to power with ambitious goals of reforming Ethiopian politics and uniting warring ethnic and political factions. He began his tenure with heroic acts, such as reestablishing severed ties with Eritrea, 18 years after the Eritrean-Ethiopian war, a largely unnecessary war in disputed border territory that cost dear to both countries in financial and human terms.
Election officers carry ballot boxes in the rain from a distribution center in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on June 20.

The first months of his mandate were marked by bold and progressive decision-making; he freed the country’s political prisoners, denouncing their torture and also freeing jailed journalists, and closed a notorious high-security prison.

He also won praise for his role in negotiating a power-sharing deal in neighboring Sudan, after a political crisis that led to the arrest of Omar al-Bashir, the country’s ruler for nearly three decades.

The leadership style was unlike anything seen before in Ethiopia’s ruling party. There were “listening rallies” attended by tens of thousands of people, public meetings in which the vision of true democracy and unity was reaffirmed.

The changes were part of a new agenda, which he promised would respect free speech. “In a democratic system, the government allows citizens to freely express their ideas without fear”, he said in April 2018.

Fame to infamy

However, Abiy’s glowing reputation turned sharply into national infamy following the controversial cancellation of the August 2020 general election.

The Nobel Peace Prize who presides over a humanitarian disaster
His government had made the postponement of the poll conditional on the raging Covid-19 pandemic, but the opposition movement accused the Prime Minister of consolidate its hold on power by delaying the country’s transition from an authoritarian system to a purely democratic one.
Officials of the TPLF, in the northernmost region of Tigray in Ethiopia, denounced the postponement of the poll to mid-2021, promising to hold his own election, the result of which was not recognized by the national government.
The tension between the TPLF and the Ethiopian government has led to intra-ethnic violence with dozens of registered victims and opposition politicians stopped Last year.
In early 2020, the National Election Commission of Ethiopia struck off the TPLF as a political party, accusing the movement of violence.
Ethiopian government defends actions in Tigray region and accuses critics of
Months later, the TPLF was designated a terrorist group by the Ethiopian authorities. Earlier in November, Abiy had imposed a state of emergency on Tigray for six months, paving the way for the Ethiopian army to launch an offensive in the region with the Internet and telephone services cut. There were nationwide internet shutdowns early in his administration, which raised eyebrows and rocked his reformist image.
The military incursion into Tigray was a consequence of an attack on a federal military base in the region by TPFL forces, the Prime Minister’s office said in a press release.
Later in November, dozens of citizens, including children, were killed and dozens injured when Ethiopian security forces “carried out seemingly indiscriminate shelling of urban areas in the Tigray region”. Human Rights Watch reported.

‘War crimes’

Abiy’s military action in Tigray is said to have caused the death of thousands of civilians. This was aided by troops from neighboring Eritrea, who committed a large number of extrajudicial killings and human rights violations in the region.

A CNN investigation in March revealed a massacre that took place in Tigray’s Dengelat district late last year.

Eyewitnesses told CNN that a group of Eritrean soldiers opened fire on a church while mass was in progress, killing priests, women, entire families and a group of more than 20 children from the Sunday school.

A United Nations high commissioner for human rights has called for an independent investigation into human rights violations in Tigray that may constitute war crimes.

Abiy’s office said it would “continue to bring all perpetrators to justice following extensive investigations into alleged crimes in the region.”

Economic woes

Early in his administration, Abiy touted plans to strengthen Ethiopia’s economy by embracing foreign direct investment.
Three years later, foreign capital inflows into the war-torn country have declined dramatically under Abiy, from $ 4.17 billion in 2017 to $ 2.41 billion in 2020, Bloomberg Reports.
Aggravating the woes of a declining national currencyEthiopia is grappling with famine in its northernmost regions. According to a recent report by the United Nations and other aid groups, more than five million people in the conflict-ravaged Tigray region and neighboring areas of Amhara and Afar face “high levels of violence.” ‘acute food insecurity’. At least 6% of that number are facing catastrophic levels and the situation is expected to worsen before the end of the year.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (center) arrives in the town of Jimma on June 16.
Abiy expects the June 21 poll to be peaceful, tweet monday that the election will be Ethiopia’s “first attempt at a free and fair election.”
But some Ethiopians and political analysts disagreed with the prime minister. An Ethiopian, Gual Adwa, wrote on Twitter: “This is in fact the worst attempt at a free and fair election in Ethiopian history. Election observers will not even entertain her and most of the opponents are in jail. Not to mention an entire region that cannot. vote because it’s a war zone. “

A seasoned journalist, Martin Plaut, called the June 21 poll a “dubious process.”

“Correction: Some Ethiopians will vote. The election has been called off in several regions – including Tigray. It is such a dubious process that most international observers have refused to monitor it,” he added. Plaut tweeted.
The European Union long since retired its Election Observation Mission to Ethiopia, citing the government’s uncooperative stance on meeting “standard requirements” for the security and independence of the observer group.

CNN’s Stephanie Busari contributed to this report.

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