Tigray Violence, Famine Cast Shadow Over Ethiopian Elections

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed appears assured of retaining his post after Monday’s elections, despite having waged a civil war that’s triggered a famine and failing to contain exploding ethnic tensions.

Some of the main opposition groups either boycotted the vote or were banned from competing, while the more than 40 others that remained in the running fragmented the anti-government vote. That’s left Abiy’s Prosperity Party with a clear path to retain its majority in the 547-seat House of People’s Representatives -- which elects the premier.

Voting got under way amid tight security at 6 a.m. local time on Monday and officially ended at 9 p.m. -- three hours later than originally planned because some polling stations didn’t open on time, ran out of ballot papers and had to contend with long queues. Dozens of constituencies, including those in the war-torn Tigray region, aren’t voting until at least September because of unrest and logistical challenges.

Tigray Violence, Famine Cast Shadow Over Ethiopian Elections

Abiy, 44, came to power in 2018 and won the Nobel Peace Prize the following year for ending a long-running conflict with neighboring Eritrea and instituting democratic reforms. He also moved to open up the insular economy, drawing billions of dollars of foreign investment that secured Ethiopia as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.

The unbanning of opposition and rebel groups, however, stoked political fragmentation and long-suppressed rivalries among the nation’s ethnic groups. Hundreds of people have died in fighting in the Amhara, Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz regions. The government responded by arresting opposition leaders and their supporters.

Violence reached new heights after Abiy dispatched federal troops to the northern Tigray province in November after forces loyal to the region’s dissident ruling party attacked a military base. Thousands have died in fighting that ensued, and hundreds of thousands of others have been forced from their homes.

Relief agencies have warned of an unfolding humanitarian crisis, and said the authorities have obstructed efforts to dispense aid to those who need it, an allegation the government denies.

While Abiy has drawn international condemnation and the U.S. has imposed sanctions, he continues to enjoy strong support among many of his countrymen who resented the political dominance the minority Tigrayans exerted prior to him taking power.

The plebiscite in Tigray’s 38 constituencies was postponed indefinitely due to ongoing violence. The vote was also delayed until September in 64 other constituencies that have been plagued by insecurity and organizational problems.

Tigray Violence, Famine Cast Shadow Over Ethiopian Elections

Birtukan Mideksa, the head of Ethiopia’s national election board, said while she was concerned about the number of complaints surrounding irregularities during Monday’s vote, there were no major security concerns. Nineteen polling stations in the Sidama regions ran short of ballot papers and the vote was suspended there until Tuesday morning, she told reporters in the Addis Ababa, the capital, after polls closed.

The opposition Ezema party complained about a shortage of ballot paper in Addis Ababa, and said it was concerned those waiting in line would leave without voting because it was raining. The party filed 207 complaints about the electoral process, including allegations that ballot papers had been forged and voter registration documents had gone missing.

While 46 local civil-rights groups and about 45,000 individuals were accredited to observe the vote, the African Union was the only major international organization to deploy monitors. The European Union last month abandoned a plan to send an observer mission because of security concerns, casting further doubts about the election’s credibility.

At least 38.3 million of the Horn of Africa nation’s 110 million people registered to cast ballots at more than 48,000 polling stations. Voting tallies will be released at polling stations starting on Monday night, with preliminary results to be announced within five days and final results within 10 days.

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