What do Ethiopia’s election law changes mean ahead of 2020 vote?

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Last month, Ethiopia’s parliament passed a new election law that amends a total of 149 articles in what is now called the “Ethiopian Election, Political Parties Registration and Election Ethics.” While the law passed unanimously through parliament, it has caused a deal of controversy ahead of next year’s presidential election, largely thanks to a lack of consultation with opposition groups.

So let’s take a look at what the changes mean for the 2020 election and the implications they might have on next year’s vote.

Which changes have caused controversy?

Among the changes made under the new “Ethiopian Election, Political Parties Registration and Election Ethics” law, there are three points that have caused the most controversy among opposition groups:

  • A ban on public servants from standing for election. Under the new law, public servants who want to run will need to resign from their role on a temporary basis on won’t be eligible for salaries and benefits during their campaigns, even if they lose and are reinstated in their former positions.
  • 10,000 signatures are now required to form a political party. Aspiring political parties now need 10,000 signatures of support to form a national party and 4,000 to form a regional party. This is an increase from 1,500 signatures for national parties and 750 for regional parties under the previous law.
  • A failed amendment to give priority to female candidates if they receive the same number of votes as men. This amendment wasn’t passed into the new law but its proposal caused a stir nonetheless.

Aside from some of the changes being criticised by opposition groups, a general lack of consultation with political parties over the changes has annoyed a number of opposition groups in Ethiopia – although not all parties have criticised the changes.

Why has Ethiopia made these changes ahead of next year’s vote?

Under Abiy Ahmed’s rule, Ethiopia’s government has liberated political freedoms in the country – something that seemed impossible under previous regimes. However, despite widespread praise for opening up the political landscape in Ethiopia, Ahmed’s reforms have also created space for political extremism and ethnic conflict.

The number of new parties being formed during Ahmed’s first term has risen drastically and this has coincided with certain parties using ethnic divides to stoke tension and rally up support.

The problem for Abiy Ahmed is that the very reforms he implemented to give Ethiopians greater political freedoms have also made it easier for destructive political agendas to form.

The resulting ethnic conflicts this has facilitated threaten Ethiopia’s entire political stability.

The government says increasing the number of required signatures in order to form political parties should make it more difficult for opportunists to stir ethnic tensions as a means for creating new parties and reduce the chances of extremist minorities posing further security threats.

The government argues these changes will help tackle Ethiopia’s ethic troubles with minimal impact on the political freedoms it has implemented under Abiy Ahmed’s rule.

Meanwhile, the government says forcing public servants to resign before running for election should discourage the rise of candidates standing for personal political gains.

Featured image: By Odaw – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66598891

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.