Press Statement by NEBE on the postponement of Ethiopia’s 2020 elections
Press Statement on the decision NEBE passed based on its analysis of the challenges posed by Coronavirus (COVID-19) on the 2020 elections operational plan and timetable
After engaging in election operation and preparation activities, the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) had announced an election timetable. Based on this election timetable, the elections were to be held on August 29, 2020, and the Board was carrying out tasks as outlined in the timetable, and providing updates to the public regularly. Accordingly, several tasks were needed to be completed in March and April 2020; among them are: voter registration; recruitment of poll workers; training and deployment; voter education; and dissemination of voter registration materials, etc.
While the Board was putting sufficient effort to ensure that these activities are conducted on time, in the last few weeks, the national and global outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has disrupted the implementation of these activities. The threat of this pandemic has forced many countries to suspend government plans, including elections. Similarly, in our country, the government has introduced different restrictions including social distancing, and to that end, has mandated most federal public servants to work from home. While the government has introduced several preventive measures to contain the pandemic, regional state governments have also proclaimed a state of emergency imposing a ban on international and inter-state travel and sanctions on public gatherings.
Besides the measures taken by the government, NEBE’s international technical assistance providers have also mandated most of their staff to telework, and some have maintained very few staff after repatriating many to their home countries. All of the abovementioned issues combined have adversely affected the voter registration that was slated to commence in April and other related activities. Below are a few examples that illustrate the challenges:
- Packing of voter registration materials at the Ethiopian Airlines’ airport warehouse has been delayed by 10 days at the time of writing this statement;
- Procurement of a significant volume of printed materials is delayed due to supply chain disruptions;
- Bringing 1000 people from the regions to Addis Ababa to attend the training of master trainers was not possible;
- Starting the roll-out of training for 150,000 voter registration staff was not possible;
- Public outreach campaign efforts, such as voter education and voter information, risk potentially being drowned out by COVID-19 and other public health announcements.
NEBE has held various consultations with the Parliament and other government bodies – Ministry of Health and high-level public health experts, international partners and political parties – on the potential challenge that COVID-19 may pose on the upcoming elections; especially on those actions that need to be carried out swiftly such as voter registration, polling staff training, and voter education.
During discussions with political parties, understanding the gravity of the problem and its implication on the elections, parties advised the Board to consult with relevant government bodies to devise an alternative operational plan. However, the parties underscored the need to ensure that the measures taken should not extend beyond the time necessary to solve the problem and requested for the Board to complete tasks that are not disrupted by the pandemic.
The Board also commissioned its advisors to prepare a study. Based on the study, the Board comprehensively evaluated the impact of the planned voter registration and subsequent activities and considered two possible scenarios.
The first scenario assumed that measures implemented by the Government of Ethiopia to contain the pandemic remain in place for a period of four weeks until mid-April 2020. The polling date may be met but with significant risk to the credibility of the process together with low levels of citizen and political participation. If the ban lasted only four weeks, the main activity in the current schedule, voter registration, will be pushed for at least four weeks. However, even if voter registration is conducted, it will be challenging to get full public participation, maintain the credibility of the elections and get the full assistance of institutions providing operational support. If the pandemic is not resolved, conducting voter registration may introduce risk to public health. Even if there were a few restrictions to uphold public health, it will be difficult to implement this plan. Moreover, this week, the government is taking additional measures and the Board’s consultation with public experts has indicated there is no possibility for improvements until April. As a result, in this scenario, voter registration will not be able to proceed as scheduled.
The second scenario under the study assumes that the government’s pandemic measures may extend indefinitely beyond April 15, 2020. If the government’s restriction extends beyond four weeks, the Board will not be able to meet the constitutional timeline for the election. Therefore, the Board will make various revisions to its plan once the pandemic is under control.
As such, the Board, after examining these scenarios and considering input from the discussions with stakeholders, has made the following decisions:
- Recognizing the impossibility of holding the election in accordance with the timetable, the Board has canceled its schedule and has suspended activities outlined in the elections timetable.
- Once the threat of the pandemic is controlled, the Board will re-evaluate and develop a new operational plan and timetable and resume activities.
- In line with the consultations and research undertaken by the Board, the NEBE will continue to carry out activities that will not be disrupted by COVID-19 and enhance the NEBE’s preparedness for the general elections until the situation changes and the institution resumes to its normal business.
- Understanding that the Board cannot hold elections one month before the current parliament’s tenure ends, as stipulated in the Constitution, the Board will submit this decision and its analysis to the House of People’s Representatives to utilize as input should they choose to take further action.
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