Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region held regional elections on Wednesday, opposing the federal government and raising political tensions in Africa’s second most popular country.
Tigray officials, holding ballots for the 190-seat regional parliament, warned that any federal government intervention would lead to a “declaration of war”.
They opposed the postponement of the national and regional elections, originally scheduled for August, due to the coronavirus pandemic and the extension of time to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s position.
“The vote went smoothly, and so far 85 percent of registered voters have cast their ballots,”; said Getachew Reda, spokesperson for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which for many years the party has been alone. in the region and is expected to gain a majority, challenged by Abiy’s Prosperity Party and the new Tigray Independence Party.
Getachew said the results will be announced on September 13.
On Saturday, the Ethiopian parliamentary high council, mediating constitutional disputes, decided that votes for regional parliaments and other positions were unconstitutional.
While Abiy ruled the military intervention, there were fears that any measures would be punished by the federal government could increase tensions.
The Tigray’s opposition to the federal government is the latest challenge to Abiy’s administration, struggling to come together with a federation that has sewn 80-plus Ethiopian ethnic groups in one country.
In addition to the TPLF, there are five parties vying for these elections: the National Congress of the Tigray (Baytona), Salsay Woyane Tigray, the Tigray Independence Party, and the Assimba Democratic Party.
The TPLF is expected to win a majority of 190 seats.
– Samuel Gebré ሳሚ (@Habesh_) September 9, 2020
Why Tigray is important
Tigray has been in control of Ethiopian politics since the region’s ruling party, the TPLF, led an armed struggle to overthrow the communist government Derg in 1991.
Leaders from the ethnic group, which makes up only 6 percent of Ethiopia’s 110 million population, have continued to dominate Ethiopian politics for nearly 30 years.
But that ended after protests against the government overthrew Abiy in power in 2018.
Some 2.7 million people in the Tigray region are expected to vote at more than 2,600 polling stations, regional election officials said.
A regional broadcaster, Tigray TV, showed voter lines on the first day of Wednesday.
Two residents of the regional capital, Mekelle, told The Associated Press that there is strict security in the city and nearby areas, that motorcycles and rickshaw vehicles are banned from the city until Tuesday night.
On Monday, Ethiopian security officials detained a dozen people, including four journalists and a senior think-tank analyst, from flying to Tigray to seize the vote.
Separately, a non-governmental organization in the AP said they were banned from observing the election “without sufficient cause”. The group, Seb Hidri, said the TPLF was behind the ban.