European Union Cancels Election-Observer Mission to Ethiopia

The European Union abandoned a plan to send monitors to observe elections in Ethiopia next month, citing concerns about security.

The decision risks undermining the credibility of a long-delayed vote that will be a critical test of reforms implemented by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies. The nation’s electoral authorities are facing difficulties organizing the ballot because of unrest that’s flared in various parts of the country.

The EU canceled the observer mission after the Ethiopian government refused to fulfill “standard requirements” needed for its deployment, according to a statement on the bloc’s website. The vote is scheduled to take place on June 5.

The EU’s conditions included the independence of the mission and the importing of communication systems needed “in the context of a challenging security environment,” the EU said. “It is disappointing that the EU has not received the assurances necessary to extend to the Ethiopian people one of its most visible signs of support for their quest for democracy.”

Abiy’s spokeswoman Billene Seyoum didn’t immediately respond to a text message requesting comment on the EU announcement.

Tigray Conflict

Unrest has flared in Ethiopia since Abiy began freeing up the country’s once tightly regulated political space after he came to power in April 2018. He’s given room for opposition parties and rebel groups to operate, which critics say has stoked fragmentation and long-suppressed rivalries among ethnic communities.

Voting won’t take place in the northern Tigray region, where federal troops have since November been fighting dissident forces loyal to the state’s former ruling party. And the Oromo Federalist Congress, one of the nation’s biggest opposition parties, has said it won’t participate in the election with its leaders Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba still behind bars facing charges of terrorism and inciting ethnic violence.

Anti-government activists have flagged concerns about the nation’s preparedness for the polls.

The opposition Afar People’s Party last month submitted a list of five complaints to the National Election Board of Ethiopia ranging from concerns over how voters are being registered to some of its candidates being fired from government positions.

Adding to the complexity of the situation in the Afar region are border clashes with the neighboring Somali region, which have left more than 100 people dead in recent weeks, according to government officials.

Protesters Beaten

In the Amhara region, the opposition National Movement of Amhara last month raised concerns that the government has arbitrarily arrested and beaten demonstrators involved in protests held across the region against the killing of Amharans by rival ethnic militia groups.

“The government is harassing and detaining Amhara youths, elders, and religious leaders who have spoken out, coordinated and led the protests for the citizens who were massacred,” the group said in a statement on April 28. Hundreds of Amhara citizens have been killed in recent months in the Benishangul-Gumuz region’s Metekel zone by ethnic Gumuz militia men as well as in Oromia’s West Wollega and Horo Gudru zones, according to the Amhara Association of America, a lobby group documenting attacks against Amharas.

Solyana Shimeles, a spokesman for the Ethiopian National Election Board, didn’t respond to questions sent by email about the opposition’s grievances in the Afar region or the general conditions in the country for holding free and fair elections.

The government is also grappling with widespread inter-communal violence elsewhere in the country. The Ministry of Defence last month announced a state of emergency in the southern part of the Amhara region after gunmen killed an unspecified number of people in attacks between people belonging to the Amhara and Oromo ethnic groups.

The Prime Minister’s office said last month that the government had established a National Election Security Committee comprising of the Federal Police, the Attorney General, the National Intelligence and Security Service, and the Ministry of Defence “to ensure a peaceful and legitimate election.”

The committee will try and identify areas where there is a risk of conflict and deal with any election-related grievances, the office said.

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