TPLF's unilateral decision to hold elections in Tigray increases risk of confrontation in Ethiopia

The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) had said it will not be able to hold elections while the country is under the State of Emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic

The Tigray Region is the northernmost of the nine regions (Kililat) of Ethiopia. On August 2, 2020, several military parades were staged in Mekele city and other towns of the Tigray region for undisclosed reasons. Clad in military uniform, the parade participants under the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) marched along the main streets of the city and finally gathered in Mekele stadium. The regional government said nothing about the purpose of the parades but the Peace and Security Bureau of the region on its Facebook page said, “We are ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of peace”. The parades’ participants who were largely members of the region’s special force and militiamen were seen carrying light and heavy weapons. “The peace of a given people relies not on external protection but on internal capacity,” the Bureau further said.

The military parades were held after the TPLF, which ruled the country for three decades until 2018, vowed to hold its own regional vote, an action the national government said would violate the Constitution. The TPLF made its declaration after the government delayed this year’s national election, citing the coronavirus pandemic. The standoff is increasing the risk of conflict, with the Tigray region holding military parades and refusing to back down.

The TPLF, which last year decided to split from the ruling party coalition led by Prime Minister , accuses the government of grabbing power by delaying the national election indefinitely. The government says it would be irresponsible to hold an election while the coronavirus pandemic gathers pace. The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) had said it will not be able to hold elections while the country is under the State of Emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the TPLF believes that the Prosperity Party wants to stay in power indefinitely by postponing the elections using the pandemic as an excuse. Prime Minister has said his government will not go to war with the governing party of Tigray over the unilateral decision of the latter to hold regional elections. “If war breaks out, the officials in Tigray will not be harmed but let others die. We will not go to war for the safety and respect of the Tigrayan people,” the PM said while holding a discussion with political parties on national issues. He further emphasized that all political forces should be within the playing field, not outside, against the rules of our institutions set up to govern political contests for power.

The decision of the TPLF has increased the risk of violent confrontations. Claims by Ethiopia’s Amhara region to neighbouring Tigray’s Welkait, Tsegede, and Raya areas increase the likelihood of conflict between the regional forces. Earlier, on July 23, 2020, the President of the Amhara region of Ethiopia, Temesgen Tiruneh, announced his administration’s plan to regain lands that were “illegally taken” by the governing party of neighbouring Tigray region. Many ethnic Amhara people believe that several key zones, notably the Welkait and Raya areas and other fertile lands, were annexed by Tigray when the current Ethiopian federation was mapped out in the early 1990s.

“The regional government would work for peaceful settlement of border dispute with Tigray region and strive for the return of Amhara lands,” Temesgen said while inaugurating infrastructure projects in the region. “We believe Welkait, Tsegede, and other areas belong to us.

They were taken by a political conspiracy. We fear nobody to get them returned,” he added. The pressure from Amhara region is likely part of a strategy of encirclement by Ethiopia’s central government, designed to weaken Tigray’s regional administration and prevent unilateral elections.

Photo Credit : Getty Images

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