The regional ruling party won a landslide election victory in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, officials said, as confrontation looms with national authorities who branded the vote illegal.
The dominant Tigray’s People Liberation Front (TPLF) won 152 of 190 seats in the polls for the regional legislature, electoral commission spokesman Abdel Guesh said.
Tigray pressed on with the vote, in a direct challenge to the federal government which postponed all regional and national elections until at least next year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The decisive win will strengthen the TPLF’s hand as it confronts Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who is struggling to hold together a fractious federation that stitches more than 80 ethnic groups into Africa’s second-most populous nation.
The vote also saw off a more immediate threat to the country’s unity – the TPLF won a decisive victory over a party calling for Tigray to split from Ethiopia.
Abiy denounced the election but has not said how he will respond, beyond ruling out using force. The federal government supplies about half of the region’s budget.
Tigrayan leaders dominated the national coalition that took power in 1991 until Abiy’s appointment in 2018. They said Abiy is trying to illegally extend his term and some accuse him of persecuting Tigrayans.
Abiy oversaw sweeping democratic reforms since taking power and won the Nobel Peace Prize for making peace with neighbouring Eritrea. He also faces increasing internal challenges from regional leaders.
“The (TPLF) is the strongest critic of Abiy’s leadership and this is likely to intensify after consolidating its power,” said Will Davison, Ethiopia analyst with the International Crisis Group think tank.
“The TPLF landslide means Tigrayan secessionists did not make major gains and it is now clearer than ever the federal government has to deal with the TPLF if it wants to discuss issues stemming from its position the election was unlawful.”