Ethiopians in three regions where elections had been delayed have headed to the polls to vote for their representatives, with one area also voting on whether to form its own regional state.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed will form the next government regardless of the results from late voting on Thursday. His party already won 410 of the 436 parliamentary seats that were contested in the June vote.
Abiy is under increasing international pressure over the war in the northern region of Tigray, where elections did not take place.
Conflict broke out in November 2020, pitting federal and allied regional forces against forces aligned with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which clawed back control of Tigray after months of bloody battles in June.
The United Nations says parts of Tigray are experiencing famine.
Thursday’s vote takes place in the Somali region, where registration irregularities delayed voting and Harar, where registration issues and a legal dispute caused delays.
The other region going to the polls is the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR), where ballot and security issues delayed polls.
Voters will also decide on 108 regional council seats on Thursday.
Citizens in part of SNNPR are also voting in a referendum on whether to break away and form their own regional state, which would make it Ethiopia’s 11th. Residents in that part of SNNPR hope statehood could gain the region more autonomy and federal funding.
Ethiopia’s 1995 constitution enshrines the concept of ethnic federalism, which allows ethnic groups to seek autonomy. Such votes have only been allowed since Abiy came into office in 2018.
Government to be formed in October
Disputes over regional versus federal powers, ethnic groups and land frequently trigger violence in Ethiopia, a country of 110 million with more than 80 different ethnic groups.
Abiy is due to form his new government on October 4.
Ethiopia has 547 parliamentary seats in total. Forty-seven seats are being contested on Thursday. It is unclear when the delayed elections for the remaining seats, some of which are in Tigray, will take place.
Abiy came to power in 2018 on the back of several years of anti-government protests and promised to break from Ethiopia’s authoritarian past in part by holding the most democratic elections the country had ever seen.
The ruling coalition that preceded Abiy claimed staggering majorities in the two previous elections, which observers said fell far short of international standards for fairness.
This year some opposition parties, notably in Abiy’s native Oromia region, opted to boycott the polls, complaining that their candidates have been arrested and their offices vandalised.
The largest opposition party in the Somali region announced earlier this month that it was also pulling out, citing suspected irregularities in voter registration.