Opposition politicians in Ethiopia warn against a delay to national elections due in 2020 the first under reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed but under threat from regional ethnic rivalries.
Earlier this month, the election board said insecurity, which has driven 2.4 million people out of their homes according to the United Nations, could delay next year’s parliament vote.
A national census has been postponed twice, potentially undermining poll logistics including drawing up constituencies.
Critics say postponing the national vote could cause an adverse social reaction, further fuel regional conflicts and damage Abiy’s democratic credentials.
“If government is going to postpone the general election it will anger the public,” former political prisoner Merera Gudina told Reuters. He chairs the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress party from a region at the heart of recent anti-government protests.
“Once the public begins to express anger no one will have the means or power to control it.”
Ethiopia’s 100 million citizens are seeing unprecedented political change. Abiy, who took power last year after his predecessor suddenly resigned, freed journalists and activists, lifted bans on political parties and prosecuted officials accused of gross human rights abuses.
The reforms follow three years of sporadic but deadly protests against government in which hundreds died and thousands were imprisoned.
Local elections last year were postponed due to unrest.
Election board chairwoman Birtukan Mideksa acknowledged earlier this month preparations were behind schedule for the 2020 election, due in May.
“If the security of the country is not going to improve, we can’t tell voters to vote,” said the former judge, once given a life sentence for activism but appointed by Abiy to head the board. “There are many internally displaced people.”
Spokeswoman for the board, Soleyana Shimeles, told Reuters election officials were working on the assumption the poll would proceed as planned.
One Addis-based diplomat said delaying the vote might fuel tensions instead of buying time to cool them.
“Conflicts in the country are escalating instead of improving,” he told Reuters.
Belete Mola, vice president of a new party representing the large Amhara ethnic group, said government was playing with fire. “This is an illegitimate government and it has no mandate to postpone the election,” the official from National Movement of Amhara told Reuters.
Debretsion Gebremichael, chairman of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and vice president of Tigray regional state, warned postponement could have “grave consequences.” The TPLF is part of the governing coalition.
“Not holding the election on time is unconstitutional,” he told a television station. “It means the Ethiopian government after 2020 is illegitimate.”