Ethiopia’s National Electoral Board has announced that legislative elections, originally to be held on August 29, would be delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The vote for the country’s House of Peoples’ Representatives, seen by international observers as a referendum on Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s reforms, was postponed until “after the risk of the virus has been resolved”, the electoral board said. William Davidson, an analyst at the International Crisis Group, told Bloomberg that the delay may have a silver lining in that it gives time for Ethiopian parties to more easily manage the country’s transition, including setting conditions for a free and fair election.
Ethiopia closed its land borders with neighboring countries on March 23, when it had eleven confirmed cases of COVID-19; as of April 2, twenty-nine cases have been reported. The country has deployed the military to manage the spread, while also calling upon the G-20 for a $150 billion loan to assist Africa.
Why It Matters
Ethiopia’s decision to postpone the elections is a risky option, as would be keeping the elections on schedule. Political tensions have arisen over Prime Minister Ahmed’s enacted and attempted reforms, which have upset delicate power balances between influential ethnic groups such as the Tigray and Oromo that have held since the overthrow of the Derg regime in 1991. In the interest of public safety, an election delay is sensible, especially for Africa’s second-most populous country, which could turn crowded polling locations into mass infection sites. This decision may also compel other African countries to postpone elections until after the pandemic has passed, though this may also risk civil unrest that could destabilize governments already becoming overwhelmed with the fallout from measures imposed to contain it.