On 21 June, Ethiopians will vote in legislative and regional elections. Twice postponed due to Covid-19 and security issues, the upcoming ballot promises to be crucial for Africa’s second most populous country. What are the various flashpoints around Ethiopia? Who are the main parties? Here are 10 things you should know ahead of the polls.
For the first time in 30 years, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) will not be participating in the polls. The once ruling coalition party has been restructured following Abiy Ahmed’s rise to power in 2018.
The bloc’s core party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front lost its political grip on the EPRDF and that was symbolised by Abiy’s election as prime minister.
“TPLF’s authoritarianism, political and economic domination had triggered a rebellion by the Oromo and Amhara members of the EPRDF coalition” according to Aregawi Berhe, one of its founding members.
This led to a terminal split with Abiy and his allies creating the Prosperity Party, seen as more ambivalent about the EPRDF’s ideology of ethnic federalism. The TPLF opposed the Prosperity Party (PP) and said it would stand as an independent entity in regional and national elections.
Ignoring the national government’s decision to postpone elections, the TPLF held regional elections last September but these were declared illegitimate. Then the TPLF’s forces clashed with federal forces in November and the conflict escalated, drawing in Eritrean forces.
2. Questioning federalism
Abiy Ahmed’s decision came amidst debate on the efficiency of the federal structure in Ethiopia. “[…]The federal structure has caused lots of problems for the country. This is primarily because it is constituted along ethnic lines,” argues Yohannes Gedamu, lecturer of Political Science at Georgia Gwinnett College.
20 national parties will be seeking seats in the 547-member House of People’s Representatives (HPR while thirty-three regional parties will compete for the State Councils (SC).
There is a lack of consensus about how much federalism would work best in Ethiopia. Some commentators see the Prosperity Party as moving the dial back towards a unitary state.
3. Identity not necessarily driving parties
Interestingly, few national parties have ethnic denominations. The arithmetical reality is that no political party can win national power by appealing to only one ethnic group – a successful national party has to draw together a coalition of ethnicities and regions.
While seven of them identify as “Ethiopian”, they are perhaps less attached to the federal system: