Ethiopians Vote Amid Tigray Crisis

Addis Ababa — Ethiopians vote Monday in what the government calls the country's 'first attempt at a free and fair election,' while the northern Tigray region remains at war.

By the time the sun rose hundreds of people were already lined up at polling stations.

At one in Addis Ababa, election workers gave instructions on how to vote, reminding people they can choose any party. An observer from the ruling Prosperity Party at one another polling station, O-Dingle Wolie, said she expected voter turnout to be higher than in any other election.

Her words echo those of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who said the election will be safe.

And at some of the polls, there mood is celebratory, despite the long lines.

But in a coffee shop over the weekend, some other Ethiopians said they will not be voting, calling the election "fake." They are from the northern Tigray region and did not want to be recorded for security reasons.

Tigray has been at war since last November, with federal government forces fighting the regional military.

The election is not being held inside Tigray and the vote is being postponed in several other locations. But some analysts say that the outcome -- which party wins a majority of seats in parliament and forms a government -- will not necessarily be impacted.

"The number of electoral regions that are not conducting elections at this moment doesn't have that much significance," said Kiya Tsegaye, an Ethiopian lawyer and political analyst.

What will be significant, he added, is the number of people not represented in the new parliament because they couldn't vote.

At the polls, some observers also report logistical problems, like polling stations without ballots for hours after they opened, as well as violations, like candidates speaking to voters near the polls.

Fitsum Bifa, an observer for the main opposition party, Ethiopia Citizens for Social Justice, said "there are some irregularities and we are reporting [them] to the election board."

Ethiopia's ruling Prosperity Party is widely expected to win this election, extending Abiy Ahmed's rule for five years, after he was appointed in 2018.

Analysts say other parties are also expected to win seats in the national and local bodies of parliament.

And voters at the polls are hopeful, with many saying they believe this election could be the beginning to an end of decades of one-party rule.

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