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Tense vote overshadowed by regional divisions as Tigray war drags on

Billed by Premier Abiy as a first attempt at 'free and fair elections', over 37 million are registered to vote for a new parliament

Politicians across the spectrum agree that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's Prosperity Party (PP) will win a substantial majority of the 547 seats in parliament in the national elections on 21 June.

But the party's victory is unlikely to confer much legitimacy on the federal government, which faces international censure for its prosecution of the war in Tigray where United Nations officials warn that famine is imminent (AC Vol 62 No 11, Not so splendid isolation).

The PP, which grew out of the former national coalition which had ruled Ethiopia for three decades, the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), is the biggest and richest of the 46 parties contesting.

Most of the other parties are small and regionally-based. Abiy has built the PP from three of the parties in the former ruling coalition and brought in some other local parties to give it an unparalleled reach. Over 37m people, out of a national population of 109m, have registered to vote.

But the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the fourth and most dominant party in the EPRDF, refused to join the PP, accusing Abiy of undermining the federal system and regional autonomy (AC Vol 62 No 1, Abiy’s search for legitimacy). That led to the Tigray provincial government holding its own elections last August, and then to the seizure by the TPLF of the Northern Command of the federal armed forces in November in what it described as a pre-emptive attack. That triggered the bitter regional war that has been raging ever since.

Voting in Tigray has been postponed indefinitely.

The federal government has declared the TPLF a terrorist organisation and installed its own interim government in the Tigrayan capital of Mekelle. In some other regions where voting was delayed for logistical or security reasons, another round of elections will be held in September. Voting has been delayed in 109 constituencies across the country.

In Oromia, home to about 40m people, voting will be sporadic due to security concerns and a widespread boycott. The two main opposition groups in the region, the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), initially supported Abiy when he came to power in 2018.

After regional protests resulted in clashes with federal forces, many of the OFC and OLF offices were closed, and recently, an affiliate known as the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) was proscribed as a terrorist organisation. It said it would prevent voting on 21 June.

Security conditions are also parlous in Benishangul-Gumuz, bordering Sudan, where voting in two of the region's three main administrative zones has been disrupted.

The outcome of the voting in Addis Ababa could have serious consequences within the capital in the context of the contest between Oromo and Amhara over land rights. Two predominantly Amhara parties, Ezema and Balderas for True Democracy, are competing with Abiy's PP to win control of the capital's governing council. If they succeed,  tensions with Oromo people in and around the capital could escalate.

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