Ethiopia’s Tigray region to hold elections on Wednesday | Daily News


 

Ethiopia’s Tigray region to hold elections on Wednesday

The Tigray regional flag on a fence in Mekele, northern Ethiopia.
The Tigray regional flag on a fence in Mekele, northern Ethiopia.

Plans by Ethiopia’s Tigray region to hold elections on Wednesday in defiance of a nationwide postponement have cast a spotlight on divisions that have characterised the rule of Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Abiy Ahmed.

His avowed attempt to bring real democracy to Ethiopia has over the past two years been undermined by tensions that have at times led to violence.

Here are the most prominent flashpoints.

Defiant Tigray

Ethiopia had initially set its first competitive elections in 15 years for August.

But the national poll body decided in March to postpone them to an as yet unknown date due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Lawmakers in June approved a plan to keep national and regional MPs in power beyond their mandates, which would have expired in early October.

However leaders in the once all-powerful northern region of Tigray rejected the plan, contending Abiy would have no legal standing once his mandate ended.

The region is alone in moving ahead with elections for its own lawmakers.

The move underscores the bitterness between Abiy and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the ruling party in Tigray, whose people make up six percent of the population of 110 million.

The TPLF led the armed struggle to topple the communist Derg regime in 1991 and then dominated Ethiopia’s ruling coalition before anti-government protests swept Abiy to power in 2018.

Tigrayan leaders complain they have since been unfairly targeted in corruption prosecutions, sidelined from top positions and broadly scapegoated for the country’s woes.

The TPLF formally became an opposition party last year when it refused to go along with Abiy’s merger of the ruling coalition into a single party, the Prosperity Party.

Restive Oromia

Abiy is Ethiopia’s first leader from the Oromo ethnic group, the country’s largest.

But he is far from universally beloved in the Oromia region, which surrounds the capital Addis Ababa.

Oromo nationalists say Abiy has been a poor champion of the group’s interests and has not done enough to address their longstanding feelings of political and economic marginalisation.

And human rights groups have accused security forces under Abiy of adopting repressive tactics in Oromia, rounding up critics as part of a crackdown ostensibly targeting the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), an armed group blamed for a spate of assassinations, bombings, bank robberies and kidnappings.

Tensions in Oromia turned bloody after the fatal shooting in June of Hachalu Hundessa, an Oromo pop singer.

In the days that followed, lethal force by police officers and soldiers combined with inter-ethnic killings left between 178 and 239 people dead, according to various estimates provided by police.

More than 9,000 people have been rounded up in connection with the violence, including high-profile opposition politicians such as Jawar Mohammed and journalists from multiple outlets.

Amnesty International said at least 20 people were killed in August when security forces fired on demonstrators in Oromia demanding that Jawar and others be freed.

Splintering South

Ethnic groups in Ethiopia’s diverse Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ region (SNNPR) are also standing up to Abiy as they demand expanded rights.

In the early 1990s Ethiopia was divided into nine regions and two administrative states as part of a federal system designed to provide widespread ethnic self-rule.

However around 10 groups in the south have long wanted to form their own regions, a move permitted under the constitution. These bids for autonomy gained fresh momentum after Abiy took office in April 2018 and, at least initially, pushed to liberalise Ethiopia’s democratic space.

The Sidama people overwhelmingly backed the creation of a new region -- the country’s 10th -- in a referendum last November. Lately the spotlight has been on the Wolaita zone, which wants to follow Sidama’s lead but has yet to get its referendum scheduled.

In August at least 17 people were killed in Wolaita after police began detaining senior Wolaita politicians involved in the campaign, sparking protests that drew a lethal response from security forces.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, the national human rights body, at the time called on federal and regional officials to “demonstrate leadership to achieve a timely and peaceful resolution” to the autonomy bids. (AFP)


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