Ethiopians are voting in the biggest electoral test yet for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, as war and logistical issues mean that ballots will not be cast in more than 100 of the country’s 547 constituencies.
The election, delayed from last year, is the centerpiece of a reform campaign by Mr. Abiy, whose coming to power in 2018 seemed to mark a break with decades of authoritarian rule and won him a Nobel Peace Prize the following year.
He described the poll as “the nation’s first attempt at free and fair elections.”
Long lines of voters were observed in parts of the capital Addis Ababa, while security was tightened in Africa’s second most populous country.
Military vehicles were parked in key locations in the capital.
Over 37 million Ethiopians were expected to vote.
“We need a government that brings us peace, unity and that will stop massacres everywhere, and we also need to be pulled out of these ethnic divisions,” Elector Desalgn Shume said.
Mr. Abiy’s ruling Prosperity Party, formed in 2019 by the merger of groups that made up the previous ruling coalition, is expected to greatly strengthen its grip on power.
The party that wins the majority of seats in the House of People’s Representatives will form the next government.
Opposition groups have accused Ethiopia’s ruling party of harassment, manipulation and threats of violence that echo past abuses.
Some major opposition parties are boycotting the elections, especially in the most populous region of the country, Oromia.
Others say they have been barred from campaigning in several parts of the country.
“I expect (the election) to end, with minor difficulties, in a credible way,” opposition candidate Berhanu Nega of Ethiopia’s Citizens for Social Justice party said in the vote.
Ethiopian Elections Leader Birtukan Midekssa, writing in The National Interest, acknowledged “serious challenges” but noted that more parties and candidates are running than ever.
“I call on the international community to support Ethiopia in its democratic journey, as stressful and imperfect as it is,” she wrote in the American magazine.
Mr Abiy also faces growing international criticism of the war in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, sparked in part because the now fugitive Tigray rulers opposed Ethiopia’s postponement of elections last year. citing Covid-19.
No date has been set for the vote in the 38 constituencies of Tigray.
The former leaders of Tigray, who are fighting the forces of Ethiopia and those in neighboring Eritrea, have reported further fierce fighting in recent days.
The Ethiopian defense forces described the fighting as difficult due to the rugged terrain.
Thousands of civilians were killed and famine began in what observers describe as protracted guerrilla warfare.
Meanwhile, outbreaks of ethnic violence have killed hundreds of people in Amhara, Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz regions in recent months.
A resident of the capital, who only gave his first name, Samuel, said he would not vote.
“Two or three years ago I would have voted for Abiy, but now there are a lot of problems in our country,” he said.
International concern has increased over the election.
The United States has said it is “gravely concerned about the environment in which these upcoming elections are to be held,” and the European Union has said it will not observe the vote after its demands are denied. import of communication equipment.
In response, Ethiopia said external observers “are neither essential nor necessary to certify the credibility of an election,” although it has since hosted observers deployed by the African Union.
The United Nations Secretary General noted the “difficult” environment and warned against acts of violence.
“It is our duty to stand united, not that of the government,” said capital resident Eskedar Teklegiorges over the weekend as hundreds of police marched in a show of force ahead of the vote.
Mr. Abiy’s Prosperity Party registered 2,432 candidates for election.
The next largest party, Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice, fielded 1,385 candidates.
A total of 47 parties were in the running.
“Last time around, we had no choice but it’s totally different,” said voter Girmachew Asfaw.