Ethiopia will face problems if it delays its general election beyond the scheduled date of May next year, the prime minister said.
“Democracy needs exercise. If we say we cannot hold elections now, it will bring problems. We should work wholeheartedly by building public trust,” Abiy Ahmed, this year’s Nobel peace prize winner, told parliament.
The electoral board has financing and capacity to conduct the polls in the country of 105 million.
The vote would be the first under Abiy, who took office in April 2018 and introduced political and economic reforms.
The reforms opened up what was once one of Africa’s most repressive nations but stoked violence as emboldened regional strongmen built ethnic powerbases and compete for political influence and resources.
Ethiopia regularly held elections since 1995, with the exception of 2005, none have been competitive. In 2005, riots erupted after the opposition cried foul, security forces killed nearly 200 protesters and government jailed opposition politicians.
“The people of Ethiopia took the lessons from conflict following the 2005 general elections. Ethiopians do not want conflict in connection with elections,” Abiy said.
Questioned by MPs about the future of the ruling coalition – some form of which has been in power since 1991 – Abiy said he intends to merge the coalition into a single party.
One of the coalition’s four ethnic-based parties, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), rejected the idea last week. TPLF was the most powerful force in the coalition until Abiy came to power.
Rapidly transforming the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front “may create more instability that would exacerbate an already difficult environment for a free and fair election”, said William Davison, an Ethiopia analyst at the International Crisis Group think-tank.
Asked about a dispute with Egypt over the giant hydropower dam on Ethiopia’s Blue Nile, Abiy said: “No force will stop Ethiopia building the dam.”
Abiy, who won the Nobel Prize for his peacemaking efforts with long-time enemy Eritrea, raised the prospect of war over the dam: “If we are going to war we can deploy millions. But war is not a solution.”
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is expected to demand a mediator over the dam when he meets Abiy at a Russia-Africa summit this week.