July 26, 2021

“We are here to choose a strong government capable of restoring peace”

Critics of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed predicted a record abstention for these legislative elections, the date of which was postponed twice before being set for Monday, June 21. But a public holiday was declared by the electoral commission to allow voters to go to the polls. And in the capital, Addis Ababa, the lines stretched at dawn in front of the polling stations.

« Citizens finally understood that they could vote freely », Assures Mesfin, a taxi driver, who patiently waits his turn. This supporter of Abiy Ahmed uses the expression of the Prime Minister welcoming a ” first national attempt to hold free and fair elections “. A way for the head of government, candidate for the first time, to stand out from the coalition that reigned over Ethiopia until 2018, the Revolutionary Democratic Front of the Ethiopian Peoples (EPRDF). In power for a quarter of a century, it was dominated by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (FLPT), which the Ethiopian federal army fights today.

The last two elections, in 2010 and 2015, were marked by irregularities and intimidation. The EPRDF coalition had won 100% of the seats in Parliament. ” In the past, the results did not reflect the ideas of the people at all », Insists Meseret Bekala, a few minutes away from placing his ballot in the ballot box. This is the third election in which this resident of the capital takes part. ” But today we expect much better. Our country is on the right track and we are fortunate to have a good leader », He rejoices.

In Addis Ababa, many voters are novices

In Addis Ababa, many voters are novices. Elias is a federal police officer. ” Disillusioned By the previous regime, he never voted despite his thirty years. A little lost, he lets himself be guided by an electoral officer. “He explained to me that you had to vote twice, once for the national ballot and a second for the regional administration.. Like him, several of them ask for an express upgrade at the entrance to the office.

But the excitement and level of participation in the capital tell only part of the story in an Ethiopia plagued by multiple crises. Despite the endless lines in downtown Addis Ababa, the number of voters nationwide is almost identical to that of 2015. More than 37 million voters registered on the electoral rolls, instead of the 50 million hoped for by the electoral commission.

Read also Ethiopia: US and EU call for end to “humanitarian nightmare” in Tigray

If Abiy Ahmed’s Prosperity Party seems to have raised hope when it was created in 2019, Abiymania fell back in 2020, against the backdrop of inter-communal unrest and war in Tigray. In this northern region, where the government and the FLPT rebels have been clashing since November 2020, numerous accounts of abuses against civilians have tarnished the prime minister’s international reputation. ” There are challenges, especially security, recognizes Mesfin. This is precisely why we are here, to choose a strong government capable of restoring peace in our regions! »

Out of 547 constituencies, 107 are deprived of a vote, or about 20% of the territory

The province of Tigray, with six million inhabitants, is already excluded from the electoral process. Other constituencies have borne the brunt of the rise in community violence in the country. Out of 547 constituencies, 107 are deprived of a vote, or about 20% of the territory. If the security situation allows, they will organize their poll on September 6. In the meantime, preliminary results will be announced in mid-July.

Read also Ethiopia votes amid concern and violence

« As a citizen, I obviously want our country to be at peace and that we can move freely everywhere, testifies Getinet Mulatu, a businessman from the capital. I am very worried about the future of these peripheries “, He adds, specifying that beyond Tigray, districts of Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz regions are also in the grip of unrest.

« Authorities tell us everything will work out after the election », Slips a Western diplomat, skeptical about a resolution of these conflicts in the short term. In Oromia, the country’s largest province, the two main Oromo opposition parties have boycotted the process to protest the imprisonment of their leaders, and a guerrilla led by rebel Oromo Liberation Army is taking hold. magnitude in western Ethiopia.

“A worrying security environment

Getachew, a former Oromo political refugee at the time of the EPRDF coalition, is back in Addis Ababa to vote but says he does not believe in Abiy Ahmed’s leadership. ” He was close to the FLPT at one time, he recalls. Then he just changed his label and created the Prosperity party. »

Read also Ethiopia: in Oromia, strong mistrust dominates the legislative elections of June 21

« The old ways are still valid today because the staff of his party is about the same as before. », Reported in May a member of the Sidama unity party, a regional party. The latter ended up withdrawing his candidacy on Monday, in the middle of voting day, saying he had observed irregularities in the Sidama region. ” They filled out the ballots themselves, beat up our members and prevent them from approaching the polling stations. », He denounces. Three other parties including Ezema, the main opposition formation, complain about the lack of access to polling stations for their militants, especially in Amhara province and in the greater South region.

Evoking ” a worrying safe environment “UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned on Saturday that” Ethiopian authorities and political leaders must ensure that voters can vote freely and in peace ».

While the European Union withdrew its observer mission in May, the African Union sent a delegation to monitor the vote. At the head of this mission, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo noted during the day that this election “Was much better than the past elections in terms of opening up the space for voter turnout, despite some handicaps ».