Ethiopia: Electoral Board Postpones Elections

The decision puts an end to the numerous preparations by the political class and speculation by voters.

Ethiopia's Electoral Board has announced the postponement of the parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for August 2020 due to the coronavirus outbreak. The August polls had been seen as a key test of the reformist agenda of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in what many thought had been one of the continent's most repressive nations. "Because of issues related to the coronavirus, the board has decided it can't conduct the election as planned... so it has decided to void that calendar and suspend all activities," the poll body said in a statement on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. It said a new date would be given "when the pandemic is over". Jawar Mohammed, a leading opposition politician, told AFP news agency that a new calendar "cannot be done by the ruling party alone". Ethiopia has recorded 25 cases of COVID-19. Federal and regional officials have introduced a range of measures intended to curb its spread, including banning large gatherings and restricting travel. These measures would have prevented the timely completion of activities like voter registration, the recruitment and training of observers before parliament ends September, the election commission added. When Abiy took power in 2018, he promised to liberalize the state-run economy and introduced reforms that saw thousands of political prisoners, journalists and activists released. He also promised to hold free and fair elections in August. Representatives of some of the regional parties, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the National Movement of Amhara (NAMA), have approved the electoral board's decision, "For now, our priority is how to overcome the pandemic," NAMA's spokesman Yesuf Ebrahim said. William Davison, the International Crisis Group think tank's senior analyst for Ethiopia, said the election postponement could be an opportunity to strengthen Ethiopia's democratic process. "A start would be the ruling party discussing with opponents critical topics such as the conditions for a fair election, transitional justice and reconciliation, and the federation's major political fault lines," he said.

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