Ethiopian Election Results Delayed as Voters Speak of Intimidation and Violence

Ethiopians voted last week in regional elections marred by a civil war and inter-ethnic violence.
Witnesses said dozens were killed or wounded at a busy market in Togoga town on June 22, 2021, as ballot counting was underway across much of the rest of the country​.
Witnesses said dozens were killed or wounded at a busy market in Togoga town on June 22, 2021, as ballot counting was underway across much of the rest of the country. Photo: YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images

Regional and parliamentary elections in Ethiopia have been marred by allegations of irregularities and voter intimidations, witnesses have told VICE World News. 

Last Monday, Ethiopians voted in long-awaited parliamentary and regional elections that will determine whether Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed will extend his four-year tenure. Initially scheduled for August 2020, the vote was postponed twice, with the government first citing pandemic restrictions and then “logistical difficulties”. 

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Provisional results were expected on the 27th of June, but following what the Electoral Commission (NEBE) described as a scheduling error, final results have been delayed until the 1st of July. The confusion reflects an electoral process marred by irregularities, the legitimacy of which is already being questioned. 

In the lead up to the election, Abiy had promised that the vote would be Ethiopia’s "first attempt at free and democratic elections.” 

"The will of the Ethiopian people will be guaranteed," he said as he cast his vote in his hometown of Beshasha, in the central Oromia region. Yet despite his assurances, eyewitnesses in Hawassa, a city in central Ethiopia, have reported seeing supporters of Abiy’s Prosperity Party physically threaten voters at polling stations. In the northern city of Bahir Dar, Natnael, who spoke on the condition of anonymity as he feared retribution, told VICE World News that he was physically attacked when he attempted to vote. “They were young people from a neighbouring area who know my political opinions and my distrust of this prime minister, who I believe is following in the footsteps of the worst African dictator," Natnael said. 

Meanwhile, voting was cancelled in 110 of the country’s 547 constituencies. Some polls were closed because of communal clashes, while other regions did not receive ballot papers. Catch-up polls are scheduled for the 6th of September. 

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At the beginning of May, even before the second postponement had been confirmed, the European Union announced the cancellation of its observation mission. The EU’s High Representative for External Affairs, Josep Borrell, said in a press release that he had not obtained sufficient guarantees on the independence of the elections. 

"They disrupted the campaign by trying to buy up whole swathes of Oromia, the country's agricultural heartland, which is crucial for Abiy,” a Western diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told VICE World News. “There were waves of arrests of opposition political leaders on trumped-up terrorism charges, a characteristic feature of all authoritarian regimes.” Meanwhile, press freedom has been seriously undermined– multiple Ethiopian journalists have been arbitrarily detained, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The elections have taken place amid a climate of violence, with the civil war that has been raging in the northern state of Tigray since the 4th of November now raising the spectre of famine for nearly 350,000 people, according to the UN. No voting took place in Tigray, where security concerns made it impossible to register voters.

Rising numbers of inter-ethnic clashes have caused more than 300 deaths a month since March, and the number of displaced persons due to this violence alone has reached 500,000.

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The Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), which boycotted the elections and whose leaders are in prison, disavowed the results in a statement last week, describing the elections as “political theatre”. The party proposed a three-point solution to the crisis, as if to demonstrate its capacity to govern: a transitional government, national dialogue, and new elections "respected by all the peoples of Ethiopia" within a year, including in Tigray.

It remains to be seen whether the Prosperity Party’s sure victory and the likely reappointment of Abit – a Nobel Peace Prize winner – will further isolate the Ethiopian government from its former allies: both internationally and nationally, as the Oromos, whom he has disappointed, are increasingly turning to armed resistance.  

Meanwhile, Tigray has seen a resurgence of violence since the elections. The day after the vote, Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front forces claimed to have launched a successful counteroffensive on Adrigat. Later that same day, the federal army reportedly killed 80 civilians in a bombing of a market near the provincial capital of Mekelle.  

On the 25th of June, Doctors Without Borders announced that three of their employees, a Spanish woman and two Ethiopians, were killed in an attack in Abiy Addi in Tigray, for which the government and the TPLF both blamed each other. "From the moment that humanitarian workers are known targets, it is very difficult for us to remain on the spot," an official at Doctors Without Borders, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told VICE World News. "Especially since our presence is sometimes a pretext for intensifying demands, and we test the boundaries of humanitarian action."