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PM Abiy Ahmed’s reforms on test as Ethiopia reschedules elections for June 21

Published: Updated:

Ethiopia’s poll body on Thursday said twice-delayed national elections would be held on June 21, kicking off a fresh countdown to a major test of democratic reforms under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Africa’s second most populous country was first due to hold the polls last August, but officials pushed them to June 5 of this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Then last weekend electoral board chairwoman Birtukan Mideksa announced a new delay was needed because of logistical woes related to tasks like training electoral staff and printing and distributing ballot papers.

The new date was revealed at a press conference by electoral board spokeswoman Solyana Shimeles, following meetings with Abiy’s government, opposition parties and regional officials.

Abiy came to power in 2018 on the back of several years of anti-government protests and promised to break from Ethiopia’s authoritarian past in part by holding the most democratic elections the country had ever seen.

His reform agenda earned him the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, but his tenure has been marred by security challenges, most prominently the six-month-old war in the northern Tigray region, which will not participate in the June 21 polls.

Around 36 million Ethiopians had registered to vote as of last weekend, though no registration had occurred in several constituencies rocked by ethnic violence, including in the country’s most populous regions, Oromia and Amhara.

The elections will include races for national and regional parliamentarians. The national MPs elect the prime minister, who is head of government, as well as the president -- a largely ceremonial role.

The ruling coalition that preceded Abiy claimed staggering majorities in the two previous elections, which observers said fell far short of international standards for fairness.

A more open contest in 2005 saw big gains for the opposition but led to a lethal crackdown on protests over contested results.

This year some opposition parties, notably in Abiy’s native Oromia region, have opted to boycott, complaining that their candidates have been arrested and their offices vandalized.

Read more: Ethiopia again delays national election amid deadly tensions