Ethiopia votes despite insecurity

Ethiopia votes despite insecurity

Ethiopia votes despite insecurity

/ POLITIQUE / Thursday, 24 June 2021 17:47

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Ethiopians voted on Monday in national and regional elections that the Prime Minister has billed as proof of his commitment to democracy after decades of repressive rule in Africa’s second-most populous nation.

By Kabakura Jean Bosco Ceusi 

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, 45, oversaw sweeping political and economic reforms after his appointment in 2018 . Some rights' activists say that those gains are being reversed and complain of abuses in the war in Ethiopia's Tigray region. The government denies these allegations.

Abiy told the BBC last week that the vote would be the "first attempt of free and fair elections" in Ethiopia, whose once rapidly growing economy has been hit by conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Results of the elections  could reverberate beyond Ethiopia. The Horn of Africa nation is a diplomatic heavyweight in a volatile region, providing peacekeepers to Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan. It is also one of the world's biggest frontier markets.

Fifty years old security guard Sisay Kebede says after he cast the first ballot at his polling station"Our hope is those we voted for will bring development"  .

Abiy's newly-formed Prosperity Party is the frontrunner in a crowded field of candidates mostly from smaller, ethnically-based parties. Billboards with his party's lightbulb symbol adorn the capital.

Former political prisoner Berhanu Nega is the only other prominent candidate not running on an ethnic ticket. But his party, the Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice  has struggled to attract support outside the cities.

During the last election, the ruling coalition and its allies won all 547 seats. This time, more than 37 million of Ethiopia's 109 million people are registered to vote, and have to choose for Parliament  from 46 different parties . The electoral board says more candidates are running this time than in any previous vote.

However, not all parties are taking part in the election . In Oromiya, Ethiopia’s most populous province, the largest opposition parties are boycotting over alleged intimidation by regional security forces. Officials did not return calls seeking comment.

Problems with voting registration and simmering ethnic violence  have delayed voting in a fifth of the constituencies. A second round of voting will take place in September.

No date has been set for voting in Tigray, where the government has been fighting the region’s former governing party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, since November. The United Nations says some 350.000 people face famine there.

Almost a Democracy

While drinking a beer in the capital Addis Ababa, retired civil servant Yohannes Asrat said he had seen both force and rigging during elections in his lifetime but hoped Monday's vote would be different. "We're almost a democracy," he said.

Abiy's reforms include lifting a ban on dozens of political parties and media outlets, releasing tens of thousands of political prisoners and easing restrictions on political gatherings.

But Fisseha Tekle of Amnesty International said to Reuters that the government was still quashing dissent using a revised anti-terrorism law and new hate speech legislation that could lead to prison terms  for unauthorised online content.

"The government is using these laws to arrest people and keep them in prison for a long time,"

In the capital, many construction projects have paused as growth has slowed in what, until recently was one of Africa's fastest expanding economies, leaving tattered sheeting covering skeletons of unfinished buildings. Many voters are more concerned about reviving the economy than democratic reforms.

Abiy has promised to bring in foreign investment and speed up electrification by filling a giant $4 billion hydropower dam on the Blue Nile, stoking tension with Egypt and Sudan, which fear the Nile water supplies they rely on might be interrupted.

But annual inflation rate has gone up as  20% and growth is forecast at just 2% this year after topping 10% before the pandemic.

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