Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, July 11 – Ethiopia’s ruling party won a landslide in a landmark parliamentary poll, results showed Saturday, ensuring a new five-year term for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed despite a brutal war in the northern region of Tigray.
Abiy hailed the outcome of what he described as a “historic” election — the first time he faced voters since being appointed prime minister in 2018 following several years of anti-government protests.
The winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize had hoped to frame victory at the ballot box as a mandate for political and economic reforms and military operations.
But the poll was held in the midst of the gruelling conflict in Tigray that has battered Abiy’s global reputation and raised fears of widespread famine.
His Prosperity Party won 410 seats in the federal parliament out of 436 where elections were held, according to results issued by the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE), which said there would be a rerun in 10 constituencies.
The figures showed opposition parties and independent candidates won a small number of seats.
In a statement on Twitter, Abiy described it as a historically inclusive election, adding: “Our party is also happy that it has been chosen by the will of the people to administer the country.”
The vote was meant to affirm a promised democratic revival in Africa’s second-most populous nation, with Abiy vowing a clean break with repression that tarnished past electoral cycles.
The ruling coalition that preceded him claimed staggering majorities in 2015 and 2010 polls that observers said fell far short of international standards for fairness.
A more open contest in 2005 saw big opposition gains but led to a lethal crackdown on protests over contested results.
– Twice delayed –
This time, the polls were delayed twice — once for the coronavirus pandemic, and again to allow officials longer to prepare.
Nevertheless, voting did not go ahead in around one-fifth of the country’s 547 constituencies because of ethnic violence or logistical problems. A second batch of polling is due to take place on September 6 in many of those left out.
But there is no election date set for Tigray, where fighting marked by myriad atrocities raged for eight months before federal troops withdrew at the end of June in the face of rebel advances and Abiy’s government declared a unilateral ceasefire.
The situation remains precarious in Tigray, with analysts warning of potential further fighting and some world leaders denouncing a “siege” blocking desperately-needed aid for a region where hundreds of thousands face famine.
The World Food Programme said Saturday it was sending 50 trucks of aid into Tigray. It was not clear if it had arrived.
In some areas where voting did take place, opposition parties complained of a tilted playing field.
In Abiy’s native Oromia region, Ethiopia’s largest, two of the most prominent opposition parties — the Oromo Federalist Congress and the Oromo Liberation Front — pulled out entirely, saying their candidates had been arrested and offices vandalised.
The most competitive regions were Amhara, the country’s second-largest, and the capital Addis Ababa.
Tsadik Domoz, 34, an ethnic Amhara sesame farmer in Humera in western Tigray which fell under Amhara control during the war, said he was delighted with the result.
“We can’t get anyone better than the PM at this time,” he told AFP.
“He is the one who saved Ethiopia from the internal and external forces that tried to destabilise it,” he said, referring to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and countries pressuring Ethiopia over its mega-dam project on the Nile.
Election day saw “no serious or widespread human rights violations” in stations observed by the state-affiliated Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
But it also noted some constituencies experienced “improper arrests”, voter intimidation and “harassment” of observers and journalists; and said it had observed several killings in the days leading up the vote in Oromia.
– ‘Need to be heard’ –
The opposition National Movement for Amhara filed a complaint to the electoral board over “serious problems” during the vote.
“A lot of our observers were beaten and chased down by militias of the ruling party,” senior party member Dessalegn Chanie told AFP.
Addisu Lashitew of the Brookings Institution in Washington said even low opposition representation in parliament could fend off future instability.
“People, especially the youth, they need to be heard, so they should have a voice in the political process,” Addisu said. “Even if it may not be always successful in influencing political decisions, the fact that they are heard itself is important.”
Incorporating opposition voices into formal political processes means they are less likely to become “radicalised” or spur a large-scale protest movement, he added.
Tegbaru Yared, a researcher with the Institute for Security Studies, wrote this week that there remained “deep political cleavages”.
The Prosperity Party “should focus on stabilising the country, stopping intercommunal conflicts, managing inflation, engaging the opposition and initiating an all-inclusive national dialogue,” Tegbaru wrote. “This could earn it popular legitimacy.”