A new timeline will be announced “once the pandemic is over”
The National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) announced on Tuesday that the general election that was scheduled for August would be delayed because of the coronavirus outbreak, a decision that was welcomed by some key opposition parties.
The board will announce a new timeline “once the pandemic is over”, the Amharic-language statement said.
“Because of issues related to the coronavirus, the board has decided it can’t conduct the election as planned … so it has decided to void that calendar and suspend all activities,” the statement said.
Ethiopia has 26 confirmed cases of COVID-19 so far and federal and regional officials have introduced a range of measures intended to curb its spread, including banning large gatherings and restricting travel.
The August polls were seen as a key test of the reformist agenda of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in what was once one of the continent’s most repressive nations.
Previous elections in Ethiopia have been marred by allegations of rigging and intimidation of the opposition.
Abiy was appointed prime minister in 2018 after several years of anti-government protests.
His rule, however, has been characterized by widespread ethnic violence, and critics accuse him of cracking down on political opponents and other dissenters.
Abiy had promised to hold free and fair elections in August and has been positioning himself as a unity candidate whose reforms could replace state repression as the glue to hold together Ethiopia’s often fractious federal regions.
Representatives of some of the regional parties – the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the National Movement of Amhara (NAMA) – voiced approval of the electoral board’s decision, defusing the possibility of protests.
“For now, our priority is how to overcome the pandemic,” said Yesuf Ebrahim, NAMA’s spokesman. Opposition parties and the government need to discuss what will happen when parliament’s term ends in September, Yesuf said.
Dawud Ibsa, OLF’s chairman, told Reuters that his party was ready for further discussions.
Jawar Mohammed, a leading opposition politician, told AFP he was not surprised by the delay but said the opposition would need to be consulted on the next steps.
“We knew it was coming,” he told AFP. “But the new timetable cannot be done by the ruling party alone.”