Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region held elections on Wednesday, defying a government ban on a parliamentary vote, building up tensions with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration that deemed the election as illegal, reported Reuters.
“Polls are now closed and the vote happened without violence or complaints. People were jubilant and peaceful,” said Muluwork Kidanemariam, head of the regional electoral commission.
About 97% of 2.77 million registered voters took part in the election. More than 600 candidates from five parties contested in the election for 152 regional parliamentary seats. The parties will decide how to allocate the remaining 38 seats at a later date.
Ethiopia was set to hold national elections in August, but the national poll body announced postponement of elections in March because of the global coronavirus pandemic.
Tigrayan leaders rejected the extension of mandates, which would have expired in October, contending Abiy will have no legitimacy after that. The opposition claimed that delaying the election was Abiy’s plan to prolong his rule. They went ahead with the vote, even though senior lawmakers declared it unconstitutional.
Last week, Ethiopia’s upper house of parliament, which mediates constitutional disputes, ruled that the polls for regional parliaments and other positions were unconstitutional. While Abiy has ruled out military intervention, it is feared that any punitive measures by the federal government could further escalate tensions. The Ethiopian prime minister has not yet specified how he will respond to the polls.
Notably, Wednesday’s ballot is the latest in a series of challenges Abiy has faced since he began implementing political reforms two years ago.
The election results are expected to be announced by Sunday, Sept. 13.
In related news, Health Minister Dr. Lia Tadesse announced that the total number of coronavirus cases in Ethiopia has surpassed the 61,700 mark. The death toll currently stands at 966.