Ethiopia

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The ruling party’s electoral advantages, however, limited this ability.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 the country held national elections for the HPR, the country’s parliamentary body. Later that year the parliament elected Hailemariam Desalegn to his first full mandate as prime minister. On February 14, Hailemariam announced his resignation as prime minister, and on March 27, the EPRDF elected Abiy Ahmed as the new chairperson of the party and candidate for federal prime minister. After an acclamation vote in the HPR, Abiy Ahmed assumed the prime minister position on April 2.

In the 2015 national parliamentary elections, the EPRDF and affiliated parties won all 547 seats, giving the party a fifth consecutive five-year term. Government restrictions severely limited independent observation of the vote. The African Union was the sole international organization permitted to observe the elections. Opposition party observers accused local police of interference, harassment, and extrajudicial detention. Six rounds of broadcast debates preceded the elections, with internal media broadcasting the debates generally in full and only slightly edited. The debates included all major political parties competing in the election.

Independent journalists reported little trouble covering the election. Some independent journalists reported receiving their observation credentials the day before the election, after having submitted proper and timely applications. Several laws, regulations, and procedures implemented since the contentious 2005 national elections created a clear advantage for the EPRDF throughout the electoral process. There were reports of unfair government tactics, including intimidation of opposition candidates and supporters. Various reports stated at least six election-related deaths during the period before and immediately following the elections. The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) has sole responsibility for voter education, and it broadcast radio segments and distributed manuals on voter education in many local languages.

In a preliminary election assessment, the African Union called the 2015 elections “calm, peaceful, and credible” and applauded the government for its registration efforts. It raised concerns, however, regarding the legal framework underpinning the election. The NEBE registered more than 35 million voters, and it did not report any incidents of unfair voter registration practices.

On April 12, the parliament decided to postpone local elections scheduled for May for at least one year due to unrest in the country.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government, controlled by the EPRDF, called on all diaspora-based opposition groups, including those in armed struggle, to return and pursue nonviolent struggle. Virtually all major opposition groups, including OLF, Oromo Democratic Front, ONLF, and PG7, welcomed the request and returned to the country.

On February 14, authorities released Mamushet Amare, former leader of the All Ethiopian Unity Party, whom authorities had detained on terrorism-related charges since March 2017.

Constituent parties of the EPRDF conferred advantages upon their members; the party directly owned many businesses and allegedly awarded jobs and business contracts to loyal supporters. Opposition parties reported they rented offices and meeting halls in the Amhara and Oromia Regions without difficulty. There were reports unemployed youths not affiliated with the ruling coalition sometimes had trouble receiving the “support letters” from their wards necessary to obtain jobs.

Registered political parties must receive permission from regional governments to open and occupy local offices, with at least one major opposition party reporting it was able to open many offices during the year in advance of the 2020 national election. Laws requiring parties to report “public meetings” and obtain permission for public rallies inhibited opposition activities.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws prevent women or minorities from voting or participating in political life, although patriarchal customs in some regions limited female participation in political life. There were improvements, but women remained significantly underrepresented across both elected and appointed positions. In October the prime minister announced a new cabinet with 10 female ministers, or half of the resized cabinet. Also in October Sahle-Work Zewde became the country’s first female president. Zewde’s appointment was in line with the prime minister’s stated goal of empowering women in his administration. In November the parliament swore in the country’s first female Supreme Court president. In the national parliament, women held 38 percent of seats, 211 of 547.

The government’s policy of ethnic federalism led to the creation of individual constituencies to provide for representation of all major ethnic groups in the House of the Federation (the upper chamber of parliament). The government recognizes more than 80 ethnicities, and the constitution states that at least one member represent each “Nation, Nationality, and People” in the House of the Federation.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future