In the news: Ethiopia postpones election amid coronavirus concerns

‘Although the circumstances are deeply worrying, the delay does offer an opportunity to reset Ethiopia's troubled transition.’

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on 19 November 2018. (Office of the Prime Minister - Ethiopia/Flickr)

Ethiopia has postponed a landmark national election scheduled for August on account of coronavirus, the country’s elections commission said on Tuesday, adding that a new date would be set “when the pandemic is over”.

The delayed vote is seen as a critical test for Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, whose reformist agenda has opened up long-simmering social and ethnic tensions across the East African country.

Twenty-six confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported so-far in the country – Africa’s second-most populous – which has closed schools, banned large gatherings, and restricted travel.

The International Crisis Group’s Ethiopia analyst, William Davison, told AFP that Abiy’s ruling party should use the extra time to discuss “critical topics” with opposition parties – including how to make the elections free and fair.

“Although the circumstances are deeply worrying, the delay does offer an opportunity to reset Ethiopia's troubled transition,” Davison said.

Abiy came to power in 2018 and has quickly reshaped Ethiopia with a series of sweeping reforms. He has released political prisoners, invited exiles to return home, and helped end a two-decade conflict with neighbouring Eritrea.

Last year, he dissolved the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition that had dominated the country for nearly three decades – creating a single entity, the pan-Ethiopian Prosperity Party, in its place.

But the easing of authoritarian controls has empowered ethnic nationalists, triggering violence that has killed hundreds and displaced millions. Read our latest coverage for more.

– Philip Kleinfeld

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