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World

Troubles pile up ahead of Ethiopia's first polls under Abiy

  • "There is a broad acknowledgement that these elections won't be perfect, to say the least -- that there will be shortcomings, there will be grounds for criticism and for a lot of improvement," a Western diplomat said.
05 May 2021

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia is set to hold elections in a month, but with war in the north, ethnic violence elsewhere and major logistical hurdles, the path to credible polls is littered with obstacles.

When Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power three years ago, he promised to break from Ethiopia's authoritarian past and hold the most democratic elections the country has ever seen.

But the Nobel Peace Prize laureate is fighting crises on multiple fronts as the nation of 110 million people prepares to choose national and regional parliamentarians on June 5.

The MPs elect the prime minister, who is head of government, as well as the president -- a largely ceremonial role.

A six-month-old war in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region is the most high-profile of several security crises that will make voting impossible in large swathes of the country.

Meanwhile voter registration is hampered by logistical issues and prominent opposition parties are planning to boycott, complaining their candidates have been arrested and their offices vandalised.

"There is a broad acknowledgement that these elections won't be perfect, to say the least -- that there will be shortcomings, there will be grounds for criticism and for a lot of improvement," a Western diplomat said.

The ruling coalition that preceded Abiy claimed staggering majorities in the two previous elections, which observers said fell far short of international standards for fairness.

A more open contest in 2005 saw big gains for the opposition but led to a lethal crackdown on protests over contested results.