Peaceful Referendum in Sidama, a sign of things to come in 2020!

29 Nov 2019

On 20th November, Sidama residents gathered peacefully to vote on whether there should be a new Sidama Regional State, within Ethiopia’s federal system, or whether Sidama should remain as part of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR). They voted overwhelmingly – over 98% – in favour of change, so Sidama has officially become Ethiopia’s 10th regional state.

The referendum saw over 2.3 million people peacefully exercise their democratic right with an overwhelming 99.86% of residents turning out to cast their votes. Hawassa, which will become the new region’s capital, is also expected to remain the seat of the SNNPR state government for the foreseeable future.

After voting was concluded and tallies taken, the results of the ballot were posted at each polling station on the night of 20th November. On 21st November, the results of all the polling stations were transported to 15 coordination offices and the National Electoral Board (NEBE) announced the result on 23rd November, prompting jubilant celebrations in the region.

The Board, which deployed more than 6,000 officials across 1,692 polling stations,  commended the peaceful way that the voting was carried out. People had queued from 6 am in an orderly way and some sang to express their excitement. The result seemed clear even at the early stages. “The voting process ended completely peacefully with no security incidents reported to us or the security forces,” said Soleyana Shimeles, spokeswoman for the Electoral Board.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed congratulated Sidama voters, tweeting that the country’s differences should be resolved at the ballot box, adding the vote was “an expression of the democratisation path Ethiopia has set out on.” Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew highlighted the success of the referendum and said Ethiopia was preparing to conduct free and fair national elections in 2020.

“Making the upcoming election free, fair and credible will be the culmination of the democratic reform that the current Government has championed.”

The vote will boost the federal arrangement, which is designed to facilitate the self-governance of the various peoples, nations and nationalities of Ethiopia. The new Sidama regional government will be able to make decisions on local taxes, education, security and land administration. Now the vote is concluded the necessary constitutional process can be implemented, which will include amending the constitution to include the 10th state.

The successful conclusion of the Sidama vote augers well for national elections scheduled to take place in May 2020. The government and opposition are preparing for next May’s election, with some parties merging to make more of an impact.

PM Abiy and his party colleagues have, this month, unified the constituent parties that make up the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), forming a new party called the Prosperity Party.

In addition to this, the  Prime Minister has also invited other parties to join the Prosperity Party to ensure Ethiopia, as a whole, is reflected in its politics. PM Abiy said the new party will realize a genuine federal system by including those who have not been represented in politics so far and unite the country. He tweeted that the merger is a “crucial step in harnessing our energy to work toward a shared vision. The Prosperity Party is committed to strengthening and applying a true Federal system which recognizes the diversity and contributions of all Ethiopians.”

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