ADDIS ABABA (Source: Reuters) — Ethiopia held elections on Monday billed by the prime minister as proof of his commitment to democracy after decades of repressive rule, although voting was delayed due to violence in some areas and opposition parties boycotted the poll in others.
Election board chief Birtukan Midekssa said voting was mostly peaceful so far, but that several opposition parties had complained their agents were beaten and their badges confiscated in the Amhara region and the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region. She did not say who was responsible.
“This will jeopardize the credibility of the election process and its result,” Birtukan warned. “Local officials and law enforcement officers should immediately take corrective measures.”
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said last week the national and regional votes would be the “first attempt at free and fair elections” in Ethiopia, whose once-booming economy has been hit by conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic.
But ethnic violence and printing mistakes have delayed elections in a fifth of constituencies, including all of those in Tigray, where Ethiopia’s military has been fighting the northern region’s former governing party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), since November.
In Oromiya, Ethiopia’s most populous province, the largest opposition parties are boycotting the vote over what they say is intimidation by regional security forces.
Government officials did not return calls seeking comment about the allegations of intimidation.
Voting was mostly smooth in Addis Ababa, although nine polling stations opened late and some did not have enough ballots, Birtukan told a news conference.
Abiy, 45, oversaw sweeping political and economic reforms after his appointment in 2018 by the ruling coalition. But some rights activists say those gains are being reversed and he is coming under increasing international pressure over reports of abuses in the war in Tigray.
Abiy has said the government will hold anyone committing abuses in Tigray to account and the attorney general says more than 50 soldiers are on trial for either rape or killing civilians. No details of those cases have been released.
Results of the vote 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. With Africa’s second-biggest population, over a third aged under 18, it is also a major frontier market.