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Tigray vote puts Ethiopia on edge after months of violence

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Days before this Wednesday’s election in the northernmost Ethiopian state of Tigray, regional leaders issued a blunt warning to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed — stopping this poll risks conflict.

“Any decision by the House of Federation to stop or interrupt the election of Tigray will be tantamount to a declaration of war,” read a statement from the Tigray State Council, referring to the upper house of parliament and the central government’s position that the poll is illegal.

Tigray’s unilateral decision to go ahead with the poll — part of a general election that has been postponed nationally because of Covid-19 — poses a big challenge to Mr Abiy’s pan-Ethiopian agenda.

Since coming to power in 2018, the prime minister has sought to push through liberal economic reforms while stressing Ethiopia’s national identity in a way that critics say threatens the autonomy of the ethnic-based states in the country’s federal system.

Coupled with the rise of previously suppressed ethnic tensions after decades of authoritarian rule, opposition to some of the reforms has led to months of deadly violence in parts of the country.

But the decision by the Tigray administration to press ahead with the vote against the wishes of the central government is the starkest example yet of the test facing the prime minister.

The tension between the federal and regional government reflects a “power struggle between Abiy and Tigrayan elites” who once led Ethiopia’s ruling coalition, said William Davison, senior analyst at Crisis Group. Read more.

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