Ethiopia's 2021 National Elections
- The Ethiopian federal government plans to hold the country’s 6thgeneral elections in late June 2021. The elections were supposed to be held in August 2020, but the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) used COVID-19 as an excuse to delay the elections.
- Most recently, the NEBE delayed the elections that were planned for June 5 for “no more than 3 weeks.”
- Ethiopia has experienced unimaginable violence since unelected Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power. There are currently several ongoing conflicts in Ethiopia, including:
- The genocidal war on Tigray that has caused over 70,000 to seek refuge in Sudan, over 2.2 million to be internally displaced, and over 5 million to need urgent food aid;
- Border disputes and ethnic violence in the regions of Afar, Somali, Oromia, Amhara, and Benishangul Gumuz.
- Amid all of these crises and political tensions, Abiy seems adamant about holding national elections to appear legitimate in the eyes of the international community.
- Holding these elections would likely allow Abiy to maintain power, further deteriorate public trust in the government, and worsen ethnic tensions, leading the nation into a further state of disarray.
Hindrances of National Elections
- Once the Abiy administration decided to hold the elections in June 2021, the NEBE set a timeline for electoral preparations to begin. However, this timeline has been subject to multiple alterations and extensions as regional states failed to meet deadlines.
- The date for regional states to submit their lists of constituency offices was postponed after 5 out of 10 regional states failed to complete their lists in due time.
- The voter registration period was extended by 2 weeks because only 25,251 polling stations out of the planned 50,000 were registering voters.
- The failure of regional states to meet these deadlines is not a bureaucratic failure but a result of the political unrest and rampant violence throughout the country. Such security circumstances are not conducive to holding “free and fair” elections.
COVID-19 Cases Higher than Ever
- Prior to the pandemic, in June 2019, the NEBE had stated that insecurity could delay the national election as 2.4 million people had been internally displaced as a result of ethnic violence and political tensions.
- However, the election was officially postponed in March 2020 overconcerns of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- COVID-19 has become a graver threat today than it was in 2020,yet the Ethiopian government seems adamant on holding the national elections in June 2021.
- Although testing was not broadly available, confirmed cases were less than 20,000 per week until August 2020. Starting in March 2021, confirmed cases have been steadily rising from165,000 per week to 260,000 per week.
- In addition to COVID-19, voters face far more pressing security concerns that have heightened their apathy toward the national elections.
- Abiy confirmed that his military is “fighting on eight fronts” in an address to the House of Peoples Representatives in April 2021.
- Opposition parties, including National Movement of Amhara(NaMA) and Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice (EZEMA), have reported that their candidates have been killed in conflict-ridden parts of the country, demonstrating that Ethiopia does not have the peace and security needed to conduct a “free and fair” election.
- Millions throughout the country are traumatized by the violence they endured and are not prepared to return to their villages, let alone register for the elections and vote.
- Ultimately, millions will have their right to vote taken away as voting will become a privilege reserved for those in the safer parts of the country.
The Prosperity Party’s Political Stronghold
- Soon after coming to power, Abiy Ahmed dissolved the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a political coalition that had ruled Ethiopia for three decades. He then merged three out of the four major ethnic-based parties to form the Prosperity Party (PP). The Tigray People’s Liberation Front(TPLF) was the only EPRDF coalition party that refused to join the PP, deeming its formation unconstitutional.
- With most dominant media outlets in Ethiopia being state-funded, the PP has considerable influence over its coverage and the narratives surrounding it.
- As a result of the blurred lines between state and party affairs, the PP has the state apparatus at its disposal. It has access to parts of the country that opposition parties rooted regionally cannot easily access, considerable financial means, and national name recognition.
- While opposition parties faced challenges registering their candidates for constituencies, the PP is the only party that managed to register all of its candidates in all 673 constituencies, leading opposition parties to put forth complaints of bias in favor of the incumbent to the NEBE.
Systematic Repression of Opposition
- The political reforms introduced soon after Abiy came to power were short-lived. Thousands of opposition leaders and their supporters are imprisoned, and the country is witnessing unprecedented levels of human rights violations and free speech repression.
- Several opposition parties have suspended all election activities stating that the 2021 national elections will not be “free and fair.”
- Prominent Oromo opposition parties – Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) have boycotted the election due to attacks against their parties and leaders by the federal government. These parties have called for a “ceasefire and preconditioned national dialogue” prior to holding the national elections.
- During the recent hearings of prominent opposition leaders, intentional measures to prolong due process and prevent the participation of these politicians in the upcoming elections were observed.
- Tigray conducted its own regional constitutionally-mandated elections in September of 2020, which saw 2.6 million voters casting their ballots. The federal government opposed Tigray’s elections, as they had called for national postponement of the elections because of safety concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Tigrayans elected the TPLF in what was likely a reaction to the growing national anti-Tigrayan sentiment and possibly the fear of impending war.
- In fact, as a partial result of holding these elections, the Ethiopian government declared war on the TPLF, which is now defending Tigray as part of the Tigray Defense Force (TDF) from invading genocidal forces. Such acts of defense against Ethiopian federal forces have led the party to be labeled as a “terrorist organization” by the federal government.
- With the ongoing genocidal war on Tigray, no elections will beheld in the region this June.
- The silencing of Tigrayan people will continue beyond the battlefield as Tigray will not be represented in the newly “elected” government.
Call to Action
- The outcome of the 2021 elections are already predetermined. With the genocidal war on Tigray and several prominent opposition groups dropping out of the race or their members being imprisoned, the 2021 national
- elections will only erode public trust in the system and further exacerbate existing conflicts.
- Ethiopia will not benefit from fraudulent national elections. Thus, the national elections should be postponed until peace and national consensus is achieved through inclusive dialogue.
- To reach a national consensus, the international community must push for:
- Cessation of all hostilities in Tigray and withdrawal of Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Amhara forces from Tigray;
- Unfettered humanitarian access to all of Tigray;
- Restoring Tigray’s elected leaders;
- Unrestricted access for local and international media in Tigray; and
- Freeing of all opposition party leaders across the country.