Ethiopia election board proposes August vote

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed
Addis Ababa (AFP) - Ethiopia's electoral board on Wednesday proposed holding landmark national polls in August, drawing criticism over the timing -- at the height of the rainy season -- of the first competitive elections in 15 years.

The elections are a critical step in the political transition to real democracy being managed by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was appointed in 2018 after several years of anti-government protests.

Abiy, this year's Nobel Peace Prize laureate, believes the polls will give him a mandate for wide-ranging political and economic reforms. He has repeatedly said he expected them to take place in May or June, and reiterated it over the weekend during a visit to South Africa.

But a draft schedule distributed Wednesday by the electoral board calls for voting on August 16.

Voter registration would begin in April and campaigning in May.

Soleyana Shimeles, a spokeswoman for the board, told AFP feedback would be solicited from political parties and other stakeholders before publishing a final schedule on February 1.

"They're debating now and getting inputs," she told AFP. "They'll take the feedback and publish the schedule by February 1."

Asked if she expected the schedule to be altered by the end of the month, she said "not much".

- Parties cry foul -

During a forum Wednesday at which the schedule was unveiled, multiple political party and civil society representatives raised concerns about the timing, saying the rains would wreak havoc with logistics.

"Most roads are not accessible in Ethiopia during the rainy season. This makes it difficult for poll workers, observers and most importantly the voters themselves," said Befeqadu Hailu, a prominent blogger and human rights activist.

"It will also be difficult for political organisations in most areas to hold public rallies," he added.

Participants also questioned the readiness of the electoral board and the security situation in Ethiopia, which has struggled to curb ethnic violence. 

Jawar Mohammed, an influential political activist turned politician is among many Ethiopians reacting to the announcement of a date for elections slated for this year.

According to him, many people have long suspected that the ruling party is by the August date seeking to leverage on incumbency to “lock out” opposition parties especially from reaching rural areas.

A major concern of the August 16 date though provisional has been that Ethiopia’s rainy season falls in the month. But the National Elections Board of Ethiopia, NEBE, downplayed the concern saying it was going to liaise with federal and regional governments to deploy logistics.

In one post he described the choice of August as crazy given that it was the “rainiest month,” after stating the logistical nightmare that looms, he added: “August is a No Go for election.”

One of Jawar’s post read: “By the way many suspect planning to hold the election in August is meant to favor the ruling party that controls state’s transportation resources and hinder poorly resourced opposition from accessing rural areas.

“And ironically as early as 6 months ago, ruling party leaders were saying election will be held in August. Coincidence?”

Jawar Mohammed11 hours ago
Planning to hold the election in August, the rainiest month, is crazy. Much of the country is inaccessible due to poor road infrastructures and rivers with no bridges. August is a No Go for election.

Jawar joined the Oromo Federalist Congress, OFC, led by veteran politician Merera Gudina. The OFC has joined a bloc of other opposition parties in the Oromia Regional State. The state is Ethiopia’s largest and most populous.

It is also the home region of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Abiy and Jawar fell out last year after the PM told parliament of media personalities who were fomenting unrest with their outlets, Jawar said the claims were an attack on him.

Jawar’s claims of a security breach last year birthed widespread protests across the region with young people denouncing Abiy and pledging support for Jawar. Jawar announced a political future and toured the diaspora before returning to OFC.

The ruling party in the country is technically the Prosperity Party, formed this year by all major and affiliate members of the defunct Ethiopia Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front, EPRDF, coalition that won the last elections in 2015.

Only the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front, TPLF, refused to join the Prosperity Party, PP, citing procedural and legal mishaps in the merger. It has since announced a formal breakaway and said it will contest with like-minded parties in 2020. Read More

AFP / African News

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