Polling stations in Ethiopia opened their doors on Monday morning to select members of the federal parliament in 10 regions, except for Tigray and Somali regions, due to the security and technical conditions, amid boycott by a number of opposition parties.
The voters, who number more than 36 million, must cast their ballots to select 547 deputies from among more than 8,000 candidates from 46 political parties.
Not all parties will vote. In Oromia, Ethiopia’s most populous province, the main opposition parties are boycotting the vote, accusing regional security forces of intimidating them.
Problems with voter registration and racial unrest have also caused delays in voting in five constituencies, where a second round of elections will be held in September.
The newly established Prosperity Party, headed by Abiy Ahmed, is leading the race in a square crowded with voters, mostly from smaller parties along ethnic lines.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has promised that these legislative elections will be the most democratic in the country’s history.
The director of Al Jazeera’s office in Addis Ababa, Mohamed Taha Tawakul, said that the elections are proceeding in a smooth manner, amid competition from more than 40 parties, most of which are relatively new parties.
In turn, the Ethiopian Electoral Commission confirmed that the elections, which were postponed twice due to the Corona pandemic and due to security and logistical problems, will be credible, despite the doubts expressed by some observers.
“We are very confident that the elections will be better, more participatory and credible,” said commission spokeswoman Soliana Shimelis.
The current Electoral Commission was formed with Abiy Ahmed assuming power in 2018, in a step towards democratic transition after decades of authoritarian rule.
The appointment of former judge and opposition leader-in-exile Birtukan Mediska as her head was seen as a sign of opening.
Nevertheless, some observers have expressed concern about the credibility of the double ballot, which will not include about one-fifth of the 547 constituencies.
The date of polling in most of those constituencies was set for the sixth of next September, while no date has yet been set for the electoral districts in the Tigray region in the north of the country wracked by war and famine.
Moreover, many constituencies will not include after the opposition announced a boycott of voting in some areas.
The vote will be observed by 5 foreign missions and thousands of civil society activists, and due to disagreements with the federal government, the European Union decided not to send observers.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, an independent but government-appointed body, was prevented from monitoring the elections.