The governing party in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region has won all contested seats in elections that have further affected an already hostile relationship with the federal government.
“The total seats for all the regional constituencies were won by the TPLF,” regional election commissioner Muluwork Kidanemariam said on Friday, referring to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
The official turnout was “97 or 98 percent” from more than 2.6 million registered voters, Muluwork told AFP news agency.
The regional parliament comprises 190 seats – 152 of which were up for grabs in polls that took place on Wednesday.
The remaining 38 seats will be allocated after negotiations among the five political parties who participated in the vote, meaning there is still a chance for some opposition representation, Muluwork said.
The elections mark a low point in a bitter dispute between the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Tigray, which dominated Ethiopian politics for nearly 30 years before anti-government protests swept Abiy to power in 2018.
Ethiopia was supposed to hold national elections in August, but the national poll body announced in March they would need to be postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, Tigrayan leaders rejected the extension of mandates – which would have expired in October – contending that if national elections did not happen, Abiy’s government would become illegitimate.
The decision to hold their own elections this week has rankled federal officials, who have said they have “no legal basis” and are “null and void”.
In an interview with state media this week, Abiy dismissed the Tigray polls as a “shanty election”.
Tigray Vice President Abraham Tekeste told AFP on Friday that the takeaway from this week’s polls “is that people really wanted to have an election” – not just in Tigray but across the country.
“COVID-19 cannot be a reason to postpone,” he said.
TPLF faced off this week against four other parties, one of which – the Tigray Independence Party (TIP) – is calling for Tigray to form its own country.
Opposition leaders said the TPLF’s long history as the governing party gave it an effectively insurmountable advantage.
“The problem in Tigray is the culture of democratisation. There is no demarcation between the ruling party and the government, the state,” said Kidane Amene, head of the opposition party Baytona Tigray.
Opposition leaders have so far offered muted criticism of the process, citing scattered reports of ballot irregularities and lack of access to polling stations for observers.
On Friday, Hayalu Godefay, chairman of the Salsay Woyane Tigray opposition party, raised the possibility of “fraud” but said he was still gathering information on how the voting went.
“There are complaints coming from our members in some areas that there is election fraud and that the TPLF have stolen our votes, but as I have told you we are still trying to have full evidence of these issues,” he said.