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EU cancels election observation plans in Ethiopia

Wesley Dockery
May 4, 2021

EU High Representative Josep Borrell says Ethiopian authorities would not agree to key parameters regarding the bloc's observation mission. The June elections come amid an ongoing crisis in the Tigray region.

Election campaign in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia
National elections in Ethiopia are scheduled for June 5Image: Balderas/NAMA

The EU on Monday canceled its upcoming election observation mission to Ethiopia, High Representative Josep Borrell said in a statement. 

Borrell said Ethiopian authorities would not agree to key parameters of the election observation mission. "As conditions are not fulfilled, the deployment of the mission has to be cancelled," he said. 

"The integrity of an election observation mission is the cornerstone of the EU's support for democracy."

"It is disappointing that the EU has not received the assurances necessary to extend to the Ethiopian people one of its most visible signs of support for their quest for democracy," he later added.

The statement says the EU has given more than €20 million ($24.1 million) to the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) to prepare for the upcoming elections this summer.

When are the elections?

Ethiopian elections are slated for June 5. The elections were originally supposed to be held in August 2020, but were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's Prosperity Party is facing off against ethnic parties based in various regions of Ethiopia. 

The Prosperity Party grew out of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which ruled the country with a tight grip for 28 years from 1991 to 2019.

One political controversy in recent months involves the state of Oromia. Several opposition leaders belonging to the Oromo ethnic minority were jailed last year after the killing of popular Oromo singer Hachalu Hundessa in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa.

Hundessa's killing triggered massive protests in the Oromo region last summer. The Ethiopian government at one point shut off the internet to quell the demonstrations and cracked down on the anti-Ahmed opposition amid the unrest.

How has Ethiopia responded to the withdrawal?

Ethiopia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement after the announced withdrawl saying they were disappointed, and that they had made all possible efforts to ensure the mission went ahead.

It said negotiations had fallen apart over disagreements on telecommunications technologies. It said the EU wanted to import satellite communication equipment, despite suitable infrastructure in the country.

It said the EU had rejected its demands that observer members make no disparaging remarks about election integrity before it released its preliminary report.

"The government is committed to make the upcoming elections free, fair, and democratic and is determined to continue working with all stakeholders to make it so," it said.

"While external observers could add some value to strengthen the quality of the electoral process, they are neither essential nor necessary to certify the credibility of an election.

"The validity and legitimacy of Ethiopia's election is determined solely by Ethiopian laws, Ethiopian institutions, and ultimately, by the people of Ethiopia."

What's the current political situation in Ethiopia?

The elections come as Ethiopia faces a political and humanitarian crisis in its restive Tigray region, which lies in the northern part of the country.

In November, an ethnic nationalist paramilitary group called the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) attacked several Ethiopian military bases in the Tigray region. The TPLF claims Abiy Ahmed's rule is illegitimate, since elections were postponed.

Ahmed characterized the attacks by the TPLF as "treason" and has ordered a military offensive against the group. The Ethiopian government has been accused of ethnic cleansing in Tigray, although it denies the allegations. 

The TPLF has also been accused of war crimes in its operations against the government. Eritrea, which backs Ahmed in the conflict, has also sent troops to Tigray.

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