from ADANE BIKILA in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
ADDIS ABABA, (CAJ News) – UPON casting his vote, the incumbent, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, expressed hope this will be the best election in Ethiopia’s history.
However, the logistical nightmares on the day, the tension that preceded the poll, and the denial of a significant proportion of voters to cast their ballots suggest otherwise.
The Prime Minister’s assertions are derived from the scenes on Monday when multitudes of Ethiopians – more than 37 million were registered – took the ballots in what is the first multi-party election the conflict-prone and famine-threatened East African has held in 16 years.
More than 40 parties were registered, including Ahmed’s Prosperity Party.
Berhanu Nega Merera Gudina (Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice), Merera Gudina (Medrek), Mohammed Omar Osman (Ogaden National Liberation Front), Belete Molla (National Movement of Amhara), Mamushet Amare (All Ethiopian Unity Party) and Eskinder Nega (Balderas Party) are Ahmed’s main rivals.
The Oromo Federalist Congress and Oromo Liberation Front withdrew following the detention of its activists and claims the polls will be rigged.
Ahmed was nonetheless upbeat.
“June 21, 2021 is a historic day for Ethiopia,” Ahmed stated.
“All sections of society have gone out to cast their voice in our nation’s first free and fair election. Pictures are a thousand words and they show the earnestness, commitment to peace and the democratic process, by our people.”
Yet, not all sections of society went out to cast their votes, casting doubt on the credibility of these polls.
In the capital city of Addis Ababa, lengthy queues started forming early in the morning under the watch of tight security.
There was an increase in the security personnel spotted in some parts of the city.
By 18h00, when polling stations were supposed to close, some voters were still queuing up to vote.
“It feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to vote. We have not had elections for many years now and during that time, things have been worsening by the day. There is fighting (in the northern Tigray), there is hunger and the economy is bad,” said Menber Eshetu, who also voted in the 2005 poll.
The voters heaved a sigh of relief after the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) stated that voting would be extended by three hours.
Voting spilled into the second day in some regions where voting was postponed because of insufficient ballot papers.
Some opposition parties like Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice alleged harassment of its agents.
There was lower voter turnout in some regions such as the volatile Oromiya, where some parties snubbed contesting the poll citing harassment by government.
“Voter turnout was high, both in urban centres and rural areas,” Solyana Shimeles, NEBE spokeswoman, told journalists.
Olusegun Obasanjo, head of the African Union’s observer mission, said, “Despite some handicaps, the general impression is that this election is a lot better than the previous one in terms of opening the space for electoral participation.”
In some areas, voting could not be held because of conflict.
Elections were set to be held at a later date in some 40 constituencies in six regions. This followed a lack of voter registration, logistical issues, and security problems.
In some areas including Harari and Somali, irregularities in printing ballot papers led to polls being shifted to September.
As the nagging issues prevailed, so did the taxing war in the Tigray region where the holding of elections is uncertain and unfeasible to conduct.
Polls were not held in the region of more than 7 million that spilled into civil war last November when the regional government defied the federal government on the holding of regional elections.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, in accordance with its mandate of promotion and protection of human rights in Africa under Article 45 of the African Charter on last week, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Commission of Inquiry began its work in the human rights situation in Tigray.
The commission is investigating allegations of violations of international human rights law reported there.
The war has left more than 5 million people require humanitarian assistance.
Over 2 million have been displaced.
This adds to Ethiopia’s worst drought in two decades.
The escalating situation in Tigray has overshadowed the Nobel Peace prize in 2019.
“Mr Abiy will forever be the Nobel Peace laureate who refused to give peace a chance,” critic, Samuel Gebru, stated.
Another Addis Ababa –based analyst asked, “In the midst of an active genocide (in Tigray) and tens of thousands imprisoned to silence voices and votes, how can this be called a fair and free election?”
Awol Kasim Allo, the Ethiopian academician, author and lecturer, was scathing on his analysis of the elections as heralding a new dawn for Ethiopia.
“People who describe this election as a new beginning for Ethiopia must have a shallow understanding of what counts as a ‘beginning’ for a body-politic. For an empire founded and sustained on the exclusion and subordination of the majority of its people, this election is suicidal,” he said.
Voting got underway at the conclusion of the polls.
Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous country (117 million people), is a diplomatic powerhouse in the continent. It hosts the headquarters of the African Union.
– CAJ News