ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Saturday pledged the 2020 election would be “free and fair” and promised a democratic transition if his party loses, as he pushes forward with lightning reforms to transform the one-party nation.
Abiy, who took office in April, has prioritised reconciliation between critics and the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which has held power unopposed for 27 years.
In an announcement on Saturday night, he said work had been done to make the Electoral Commission “non-partisan and credible”, adding that the country could adopt an electronic voting system for the upcoming polls.
In his first press conference since taking office, he ruled out postponing the polls and said the ruling party wanted to “conduct truly democratic elections”.
“EPRDF’s desire at this moment is to conduct a truly democratic election,” he said.
“If EPRDF wins a truly democratic election it can implement its agenda with full confidence, and if EPRDF loses, it will fulfil its long-held pledge to implement democratic transition.”
The EPRDF has held power unopposed since the elections of May 2015 when it scooped up all 547 seats in the parliament, in a ballot denounced by the opposition as a “farce”.
Observers say the EPRDF, which has held power since 1991, has been forced to change course due to a wave of anti-government protests by the country’s two largest ethnic groups that began in late 2015, leaving hundreds dead.
A year later, with the unrest ongoing, the government of then prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn imposed a state of emergency.
But he resigned in February this year, paving the way for Abiy to take over, becoming the first leader to ever come from the Oromo people, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group.
Since then, Abiy has launched a series of sweeping changes which have shifted the power balance within Africa’s second-most populous country.
He has shaken up the security services, ended the state of emergency, freed jailed dissidents and signed a peace deal with neighbouring Eritrea, ending two decades of hostilities.