Ethiopia postpones general election indefinitely

Ethiopia’s general election, originally intended to take place in May but rescheduled for August, has been postponed indefinitely due to

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed

Photo: Reuters/Tiksa Negeri

Ethiopia’s general election, originally intended to take place in May but rescheduled for August, has been postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19.

The vote will likely serve as a vital referendum on incumbent Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s reformist agenda, which has won the PM a Nobel Peace Prize and provoked both praise and violent backlash domestically.

Persistent variants of neopatrimonialism in governance and ethnic strife are profoundly interconnected and well-entrenched in recent Ethiopian history. Following two decades of repressive control by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, Ahmed’s sudden liberalisation has struck the tinderbox of ethnic separatist sentiment. If sparked, it could lead to intercommunal bloodshed, akin to that which killed 86 people in the Oromia region last October.

While the delay does offer a chance to reset the flawed transition through extended inter-party discussion, the country’s poor track record of sustained multi-party competition may reassert itself. Expect the postponement to amplify divisions and boost the probabilities of a return to authoritarianism and ethnic violence, thereby compromising Ethiopia’s delicate progress towards a democratic transition. Whether the election is indeed free and fair—as Ahmed has promised—will have enormous ramifications for the nation’s democratisation prospects.

Wake up smarter with an assessment of the stories that will make headlines in the next 24 hours. Download The Daily Brief.