Historic 2020 Elections Represent Hope on the Horizon

30 Aug 2019

Ethiopia is heading for a historic National Election in May 2020, expected to be the freest, fairest and most inclusive ever held in the country.

Ethiopia, with a population of over 105 million people, has a fixed-term parliament system with elections held every five years. A bicameral system consisting of the House of People’s Representatives with 547 constituency members (MPs), and the House of Federation, ensures the representation of minorities from all constituencies based on population size.

Significant reforms undertaken over the last 18 months have seen government critics released from jail and armed opposition movements in exile, previously designated as ‘terror’ groups, allowed back home, where many have already engaged in peaceful politics ahead of their participation in next year’s elections.

Encouraged by this broadening of the political space, donors have heralded their support. On 18th June, the United Nations Development Programme signed a $40 million project document to strengthen the institutional capacity of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) to deliver on its mandate to enhance public trust and confidence in the election process. This multi-partner programme, “Supporting Elections for Ethiopia’s Democracy Strengthening” (SEEDS), this month, received a $3 million donation from the Japanese government for the procurement of transparent ballot boxes and indelible ink markers to avoid double voting, thereby enhancing credibility and transparency.

Back in May, when Jeremy Hunt MP, the UK’s former Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, was in Ethiopia for World Press Freedom Day, he announced £15.5 million of UK support to help Ethiopia “run transparent, free and fair elections.” In June, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his appreciation for Ethiopia’s grassroots approach, welcomed significant reforms and praised the plans to hold an election. $1 million in funding has since been approved to support the 2020 elections and will be provided through UNDP.

On the technical side, former opposition leader and outspoken critic, Birtukan Mideksa, now heading up the NEBE, following her appointment by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, commands the highest esteem from Ethiopian society and will be trusted to ensure that the election process is fully free and fair.

Birtukan Mideksa (right) is sworn in as chairperson of NEBE in November 2018

Ethiopia has more than 110 political parties representing the diverse interests of millions of Ethiopians across the length and breadth of the country.

Over a hundred parties have been engaged in successive consultations with the Government and the Electoral Board in anticipation of next year’s polls. This is testament to the widening political space and appetite for democratisation felt across society since the coming to power of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in April 2018.

Political parties are free to express their views and outline their policies without censorship, and, in an effort to ensure a level playing field, will benefit from the provision of election funding from the Government and guaranteed access to state media to broadcast their manifestos. In fact, many opposition parties have already engaged in fundraising and campaigning, holding town hall meetings and consultations as part of their warm-up for the vote next year.

The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the ruling coalition headed by Prime Minister Abiy, in a recent regular meeting of its Executive Committee, outlined its own commitment to hold the vote next year, whilst welcoming the continuation of consultations with political parties on the finer details of the poll.

Furthermore, the Ethiopian House of People’s Representatives in their extraordinary meeting on 24th August 2019 approved a proclamation on electoral and political parties. The Bill is expected to better facilitate the conduct of future elections by supporting the development of robust political parties in the country.

With preparations afoot across the political spectrum, this historic election holds the promise of embedding a truly inclusive and participatory democracy in Ethiopia for the long haul. However, to meet these aspirations, all stakeholders must capitalise on the public’s appetite for change and reform to drive Ethiopia forward towards the hope on the horizon.

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