The Ethiopia electoral board announced on Tuesday, March 31, 2020, that the national parliamentary election of the country which is scheduled for August 29 has been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak. The move of the election commission has also been supported by some opposition parties and some analysts believed that the postponing of the election would further strengthen democracy in Ethiopia which had been long known for its repressive nature.
Test for Ethiopian Democracy
Analysts have suggested that this parliamentary voting was supposed to be an important test of the reformist agenda of Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed. He stepped into politics by promising to liberalize the state-run economy and oversaw reforms that freed thousands of political prisoners, journalists and opposition activists.
The political openness of Abiy when he became premier of the country in 2018 had won a wide admiration at home and abroad. Moreover, he was praised for his efforts to bring Ethiopia’s fractious federal regions together. Citing a new dynamic of the country’s politics, Abiy promised to ensure a free and fair election by positioning himself as a unity candidate whose reforms could replace repression of the country’s earlier regimes.
Meanwhile, analysts suggested that cancellation of the national election in Ethiopia was good for its democracy. Referring to the new move of the election board, William Davison, the International Crisis Group think tank’s senior analyst for Ethiopia, said that the election postponement could be used to strengthen Ethiopian democracy.
Davison added, “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.”
Oppositions Welcome Postpone
Ethiopia, which is known as the “Horn of Africa” nation, has 25 confirmed cases of coronavirus so far and is Africa’s second-most populous nation with 105 million citizens. The postponing of parliamentary elections was due to the threat of the virus spread in the country.
The decision of the election board was not opposed by the representatives of some of the regional parties including the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the National Movement of Amhara (NAMA). Yesuf Ebrahim, NAMA’s spokesman, stated, “For now, our priority is how to overcome the pandemic,” adding that opposition parties and the government must discuss the issues together.
Dawud Ibsa, OLF’s chairman, told Reuters that his party was ready for further discussions. Jawar Mohammed, a prominent activist from Abiy’s Oromo ethnic group, warned that the opposition parties must also be consulted for the next decision of the government. Jawar, who was once Abiy’s ally but later became one of the fiercest critics against Abiy’s government, said, “The ruling party cannot and should not make unilateral decisions.”
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