Ethiopia’s ruling Prosperity Party has been declared the winner of last month’s national election in a landslide, assuring a second five-year term for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
The June 21 election marked the first time Abiy faced voters since being appointed prime minister in 2018 following several years of anti-government protests.
In a statement posted on Twitter on Saturday, Abiy described it as a historically inclusive election, adding: “Our party is also happy that it has been chosen by the will of the people to administer the country.”
But the poll was held in the midst of the gruelling conflict in Tigray region that has battered Abiy’s global reputation and raised fears of widespread famine.
The National Election Board of Ethiopia announced on Saturday that the ruling party won 410 seats in the federal parliament out of 436 where elections were held. Some seats will remain vacant as no voting took place in some areas due to unrest or logistical reasons.
The official results showed opposition parties and independent candidates winning a small number of seats.
Even low opposition representation in parliament could fend off future instability, said Addisu Lashitew of the Brookings Institution in Washington.
“People, especially the youth, they need to be heard, so they should have a voice in the political process,” Addisu said.
“Even if it may not be always successful in influencing political decisions, the fact that they are heard itself is important.”
Incorporating opposition voices into formal political processes means they are less likely to become “radicalised” or spur a large-scale protest movement, he added.
A test for Abiy
The vote was a test for Abiy, who came to power in April 2018 after the prime minister resigned amid widespread protests.
Abiy oversaw dramatic political reforms, but critics say he is backtracking from some promises on political and media freedoms.
He has also drawn major international criticism for his handling of the conflict in the Tigray region that has left thousands of people dead.
June’s vote, which had been postponed twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic and logistical issues, was largely peaceful but opposition parties decried harassment and intimidation.
Abiy hailed the election as the nation’s first attempt at a free and fair vote, but the United States has called it “significantly flawed”, citing the detention of some opposition figures and insecurity in parts of Africa’s second-most populous country.
The leader of the main opposition Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice party, Birhanu Nega, lost while opposition parties won just 11 seats.
The Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice party has filed 207 complaints with the electoral body over the vote.
Popular opposition parties in the Oromia region, the largest of Ethiopia’s federal states, boycotted the election. The ruling party ran alone in several dozen constituencies.
‘A credible election’
The head of the electoral board, Birtukan Mideksa, said during Saturday’s announcement that the vote was held at a time when Ethiopia was experiencing challenges, “but this voting process has guaranteed that people will be governed through their votes”.
She added: “I want to confirm that we have managed to conduct a credible election.”
Voter turnout was just more than 90 percent among the more than 37 million people who had been registered to vote.
The Prosperity Party was formed after the dismantling of Ethiopia’s former ruling coalition, which had been dominated by Tigray politicians.
Disagreements over that decision signalled the first tensions between Abiy and Tigray leaders that eventually led to the conflict in the region in November.
Though Abiy hinted in 2018 that Ethiopia will limit a prime minister’s terms to two, it is not clear whether he will act on that.