Ethiopia: Dark Clouds Over Ethiopia Polls

Ethiopians voters went to the polls in the early hours of the morning in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, June 21, 2021.

Ethiopians went to the polls today after decades of repressive rule but whether the elections were held under free and fair conditions, or should have gone ahead at all , was the subject of much debate amid growing international concern over the humanitarian situation in the war-torn Tigray region.

Legalbrief reports that the seven-year conflict in the northern Ethiopian region has prompted a probe by the AU into allegations of human rights violations, and a call for UN intervention by several humanitarian groups and leaders. The polls have also been marred by other violent, election-related conflicts, boycotts by some opposition groups, allegations of increasing repression by the government, and the stand-off between Ethiopia and its neighbours over the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam.

BBC News reports that the head of the electoral commission, Birtukan Midekssa, this afternoon said while things had gone mostly smoothly she was worried about the intimidation of opposition party agents in some places, particularly in the Amahara region and the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' Region. 'Some complain they have been beaten or denied access to voting stations,' she told journalists. 'If this issue is not resolved immediately the outcome of the election might be compromised.' Full BBC News report

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said today's elections would be the the country's first free and fair polls after decades. But, reports BusinessLIVE, voting has been delayed in 110 out of 547 constituencies because of violent conflicts and logistical problems and some opposition parties are boycotting the elections over what they describe as harassment of their members. One candidate is contesting the election from jail.

Abiy won international plaudits and a Nobel Peace Prize for democratic reforms and for ending two decades of hostilities with neighbouring Eritrea when he was named head of Ethiopia's governing coalition in 2018. He now faces mounting international pressure over the Tigray war and accusations from rights groups that his government is rolling back some new freedoms, which it denies.

The elections will be the first test of voter support for Abiy's Government . Previous elections were tainted by accusations of vote rigging. About 37m of Ethiopia's 109m people have registered to cast ballots, though some will have to wait until a second round of voting in September.

No date has been set for voting in Tigray, where Ethiopia's military has been fighting the region's former governing party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front, since November. Abiy's Prosperity Party remains the front-runner. The opposition is fragmented between smaller, mostly ethnically based parties. Full BusinessLIVE report
( * Also see this background report on Ethiopia under Abiy's rule. )

The AU has launched a commission of inquiry into alleged human rights violations in Tigray, where the conflict has led to warnings of famine and allegations of ethnic cleansing.

In a statement, the body said the commission, created under the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, will begin its work in the capital of Gambia, Banjul, and will conduct investigations on 'the ground and in neighbouring countries when the conditions are met', notes an Al Jazeera report.

'The commission of inquiry has a mandate to, inter alia, investigate allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and to gather all relevant information so as to determine whether the allegations constitute serious and massive violations of human rights ,' the statement added.

In response, Ethiopia's Government called on the AU to 'immediately cease' the inquiry. An Ethiopian Foreign Ministry statement on Thursday criticised the independent inquiry as 'misguided' and lacking a legal basis, and proposed a joint probe instead. But members of the new commission said they had not received that statement from Ethiopia, adding the investigation into alleged human rights abuses will go forward. Full Al Jazeera report

Reports of sexual violence in Tigray has prompted two separate letters, signed by high-profile signatories, demanding international action. The Guardian reports that among the signatories are the former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, and Zimbabwean author and 2020 Booker prize nominee Tsitsi Dangarembga.

In one, more than 50 women of African descent call for an immediate ceasefire and express horror at reports that African women and girls are 'once again the victims' of violence and rape in war. Another letter signed by Clark, as well as former UK development secretary Hilary Benn, Green party MP Caroline Lucas and more than 60 campaigners, calls on the UN security council to set up a tribunal to investigate allegations of sexual violence in Ethiopia's northern region 'as a war crime, a crime against humanity, or a constitutive act of genocide '.

'Failure by the international community to act would undo the progress made so far in eliminating sexual violence in conflict,' reads the open letter, whose signatories include more than 30 organisations from Tigray and the diaspora. 'It would give a green light to regimes that deploy this barbaric weapon of war. And it would be a betrayal of the women of Tigray, whose courage we salute.' eople were now suffering famine conditions in Tigray. Full report in The Guardian

The election does not meet the minimum standards to be considered free, fair or credible, argue Awol Allo, senior lecturer in law at Keele University, UK, and Feven Girmay, higher education researcher and administrator based in the US.

In an Al Jazeera analysis, they write that the melange of crises facing the country – burgeoning armed uprisings and grinding wars in the Tigray, Oromia, and Benishangul-Gumuz regions; bitter disagreements over the future direction of the country; spiralling ethnic conflict; widespread atrocities committed by Ethiopian and Eritrean troops in Tigray and Oromia; intensifying border disputes with Sudan; escalating tensions with Egypt over the GERD (Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam); an economy in free fall with unsustainable public finances; and widespread repression and human rights abuses – make a free and fair election virtually impossible.

' Opposition parties and critical stakeholders have been urging the government to postpone the election and instead focus its efforts on convening an inclusive national dialogue to build a national consensus on the future of the country . In doing so, the government and key stakeholders can first work to bridge the widening gap between competing visions for the future, after which conditions for a free and fair election can be established. However, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his administration have ignored those calls, opting instead to pursue elections that will bring neither legitimacy nor stability.' Full Al Jazeera analysis

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) was refused permission to observe the elections, the Addis Standard reports. The EHRC on 10 June requested the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) for accreditation to observe the elections, a source said, but the NEBE declined the request.

The board cited Article 123 of the Ethiopian Electoral, Political Parties and Elections Code of Conduct Proclamation which states: 'The board shall prepare and issue accreditation cards to stationary and mobile agents, journalists and election observers', with the board arguing that its proclamation detailing who will get accreditation did not include the Rights Commission. The board added: 'Because the commission does not qualify as an agent of a political party, nor as journalists or election observers, the board does not have legal grounds to issue accreditation cards thereby declines the commission's request.' According to the source, the commission denounced the decision and inquired the chairperson of the NEBE, Birtukan Mideksa, to re-examine the decision . Full Addis Standard report

In some of the sharpest remarks yet on the Tigray conflict, the Ethiopian leadership said they were 'going to wipe out the Tigrayans for 100 years' , a European Union special envoy to the war-torn country has said.

The remarks by Pekka Haavisto, Finland's Foreign Minister, describing his talks with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and other Ministers in February came in a question-and-answer session on Tuesday with a European Parliament committee.

Al-Jazeera reports that Ethiopia's Foreign Ministry dismissed Haavisto's comments as 'ludicrous' and a 'hallucination of sorts or a lapse in memory of some kind'. In February Haavisto said he had 'two intensive days in substantive meetings' with Abiy and other 'key Ministers' about the growing humanitarian crisis in Tigray. Full Al Jazeera report

Don't Miss

AllAfrica publishes around 800 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.

X