Ethiopia’s 2020 vote will be free, won’t be delayed by reforms – PM

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Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed if Ethiopia says
the 2020 election will be free and will not be delayed by his sweeping reforms to
the African nation’s politics, economy and diplomacy.

Ahmed, who took office in April, has pledged to open up the state-dominated economy and has taken steps
to end decades of hostility with neighbouring Eritrea — moves that could reshape the country
and the broader Horn of Africa region.

He said on Saturday at his first news conference that the World Bank would provide one billion dollars
in budget support in the next few months, explaining that “this is due to the reforms taking place
in the country.”

Since winning office, Ahmed has loosened the grip of a state that had ruled with an iron fist.

He has ordered the release of political prisoners and decried abuses by security forces as state terrorism.

“My dream and ambition is for democratic elections to be held,” the 42-year-old prime minister said.

“Otherwise, what legitimacy can any official have without the mandate earned through elections?”

He said elections, due in 2020, should not be delayed until the reforms he has announced are completed.

He said the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition’s focus i 2019
would be on “preparations for free elections to be held.”

Abiy has promised to give more room to opponents in a nation of 100 million where no opposition lawmakers
sit in parliament.

He has lifted a state of emergency put in place after his predecessor resigned in February following three
years of protests in which hundreds were killed by security forces.

The World Bank and other donors suspended budgetary help following a vote in 2005 that was disputed
by the opposition and accompanied by violence that killed 200 people.

The ruling coalition, in power since ousting dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991, has long been accused
by the opposition of crushing dissent, a charge it had denied, though Ahmed has spoken frankly since
taking office about past abuses.

Some political dissidents have voiced scepticism about change as long as Abiy’s EPRDF remains in power.

Protests that led to the resignation of his predecessor were partly driven by Ethiopia’s disillusioned
youth, suffering high levels of unemployment.

Although it has been one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies, Ethiopia’s export sector – mainly
garment manufacturing and farming – has struggled, meaning the economy is not generating
enough dollars to pay for imports.

The dollar shortages have been exacerbated by the government’s massive investment in infrastructure
over the last decade.

The government in July called on Ethiopians to bring their hard currency into banks to ease the shortage,
a move which closed the once yawning gap between the official and black market exchange rates for the
birr currency.

On Saturday, Ahmed said “economic sabotage” had taken place and adding that “large groups” were still
hoarding foreign exchange, without giving details.

Though the government has pledged to partially privatise several key state-owned companies, including
the telecoms monopoly, the form liberalisation will take and the speed with which it will be carried
out have not been announced.(Reuters/NAN)

Biola Lawal

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