On Tuesday, 31st of March, Ethiopia’s electoral board announced the postponement of the country’s parliamentary election scheduled for August 29th, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the move was endorsed by some key opposition parties, it has received mixed reactions from different strands of the opposition movement.
A statement from the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia states that “due to the pandemic we were forced to suspend our activities.” The board has said that it would announce a new timeline once the disease subsides.
Ethiopia is a leading tourism hub in Africa and records millions of visitors per year. This makes the country vulnerable to the never-relenting COVID-19 pandemic which has been imported into the country with about 29 cases already. This has made the government implement stringent measures to curb the disease spread in the Horn of Africa country.
Some of the measures include a ban on mass gatherings and school shutdowns by the Ethiopian government, plus a suspension of intra-regional and inter-regional transportation services and movement restrictions by autonomous regional states. These measures have helped in limiting the number of cases registered in Africa’s second-largest country.
Meanwhile, the electoral board has said that government actions against the pandemic “have delayed pre-election tasks, including the training over 150,000 election attendants, that were supposed to be finalized by now.”
Responding to the decision, leading Ethiopian activist and political candidate with the Oromo Federalist Congress, Jawar Mohammed stated that “the Board was already behind the schedule by weeks before the coronavirus outbreak became an issue.” Mohammed noted that there was no way the country could have held the election as scheduled. Adding that “the pandemic just gave them justifiable excuses.”
The peculiarities of the Ethiopian political ecosystem has caused speculations of possible protest outbreak due to the postponement of the elections. This has led representatives of some of the regional parties – the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the National Movement of Amhara (NAMA) – to speak up in favour of the government’s move and defusing the possibility of protests.
In a statement, Yesuf Ebrahim, NAMA’s spokesman said, “for now, our priority is how to overcome the pandemic.” Ebrahim added that opposition parties and the government need to discuss what will happen when parliament’s term ends in September.
Also, opposition leader and Chairman of OLF, Dawud Ibsa has said that his party was ready for further discussions.
Also, Natnael Feleke, the spokesperson for Ethiopia Citizens for Social Justice Party, a leading opposition, expressed his party’s view on the postponement that “it was expected and it is a decision that was justified considering the spread of COVID-19.”