Amid War, Famine Ethiopia Goes To The Polls
Amid war and famine, voters in Ethiopia cast ballots Monday in a delayed national election taking place against the backdrop of war and famine in the northern Tigray region and questions over the poll’s credibility.
It is the first electoral test for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, 44, who rose to power in 2018 championing a democratic revival in Africa’s second most populous country, and a break from its authoritarian past.
“This election is different,” said Milyon Gebregziabher, a 45-year-old travel agent voting in the centre of the capital Addis Ababa. “There are a number of parties to choose from. In the past there was just one, we did not have the luxury of choice.”
Abiy, a Nobel Peace laureate who freed political prisoners, welcomed back exiles and ended a long cold war with neighbouring Eritrea before sending troops to confront the dissident leadership of Tigray late last year, has promised this election will be Ethiopia’s most competitive in history, free of the repression that marred previous ballots.
But the spectre of famine caused by the ongoing fighting in Tigray, and the failure to stage elections on schedule in around one-fifth of constituencies, means that promise is in doubt.
Polling began in Addis Ababa soon after the expected start time of 6:00 am (0300 GMT) with voters in face masks wrapped in blankets against the pre-dawn chill.
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Electoral officials in purple vests sprayed voters’ hands with sanitiser before checking their IDs against the register.
“I believe this election will shine a light of democracy on Ethiopia,” said Yordanos Berhanu, a 26-year-old accountant at the head of a queue of hundreds.
“As a young Ethiopian, I (have) hope for the future of my country, and believe voting is part of that,” she said before slipping her ballot papers into a purple plastic box for the national vote and a light green one for the regional election.
In Bahir Dar, capital of the northwestern Amhara region which neighbours Tigray, voters said peace and economic growth were the priorities.
“No matter who wins, we want peace,” said 25-year-old jobseeker Mirkuz Gashaw.
“As a citizen, I hope our country prospers and grows,” said first-time voter Etsubdink Sisay, 18, who lined up with her mother.
Once votes are counted, national MPs will elect the prime minister, who is head of government, as well as the president — a largely ceremonial role.
Abiy’s ruling Prosperity Party has fielded the most candidates for national parliamentary races, and is the firm favourite to win a majority and form the next government.
Security was ramped up for the election, with police marching in force in Addis Ababa over the weekend, and reinforcements deployed across the country.
The election was twice delayed — once for the coronavirus pandemic, and again to allow more time to organise the ballot across a huge nation.
Some 38 million Ethiopians are registered but polls are not going ahead in close to one-fifth of the country’s 547 constituencies with some areas deemed too insecure — plagued by armed insurgencies and ethnic violence — while in others logistical setbacks made arranging a vote in time impossible.
A second batch of voting is to take place on September 6 to accommodate many of the districts not taking part Monday.
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But there is no election date set for Tigray, where UN agencies say 350,000 people face famine conditions, and atrocities have been documented.
The northernmost region represents 38 seats in national parliament, and has been governed by an interim administration since November, when Abiy sent troops into Tigray, promising a swift campaign to oust its ruling party.
Seven months later the conflict drags on, damaging Abiy’s standing as a peacemaker and overshadowing a vote meant to broadcast his country’s democratic intent.
In a handful of places where the vote is going ahead Monday, opposition parties are boycotting in protest, reducing some constituencies to a one-horse race.
Even in the best of times, organising smooth elections is a tall order in Ethiopia, a huge country hobbled by poor infrastructure.
Observers have pointed out that logistical support usually comes from the military, which is largely tied up Tigray, leaving organisers short on manpower.
But after months of setbacks and delays, election officials said they were ready for Monday’s vote, which involves more than 40 parties and 9,500 candidates. Vote counting is due to start soon after polls close, but results are not expected for days.
Concerns about credibility have been raised, with traditional ally the United States warning that excluding so many voters risked confidence in the process.
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How Eight Died In India Temple Collapse
No fewer than eight devotees died and about a dozen rescued on Thursday after about 25 people fell into a well at a Hindu temple in India, police said.
The worshippers plunged into the stepwell – a stair-lined communal water source – after the floor covering it collapsed in the central city of Indore.
“We have recovered eight bodies and rescued nearly a dozen,” police official Manish Kapooriya told AFP, adding that rescue efforts were still ongoing.
Television footage showed emergency workers using ropes and ladders to reach those trapped in the well in Madhya Pradesh state.
Other videos showed the caved-in floor and mangled steel bars, and policemen using ropes to seal the area.
Temples across India were brimming with devotees on the occasion of Ram Navami, the birthday of the Hindu deity Lord Ram.
Police Fine British Prime Minister For Not Wearing Seatbelt In Car
The British Police have fined Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for not wearing a seatbelt in the back of a moving car while on a trip to northern England.
Sunak, who recorded an Instagram video on Thursday, was seen turning in his seat to talk to the camera without a seatbelt on, a video that has now been deleted from the social media site.
The PM’s office at Downing Street said the incident was a “brief error of judgment”, but Lancashire constabulary announced they were fining Sunak for the infraction, The Guardian UK says.
The force said: “You will be aware that a video has been circulating on social media showing an individual failing to wear a seatbelt while a passenger in a moving car in Lancashire.
“After looking into this matter, we have today issued a 42-year-old man from London with a conditional offer of fixed penalty.”
Reacting, a spokesperson for Sunak said: “The prime minister fully accepts this was a mistake and has apologised. He will of course comply with the fixed penalty.”
A fixed penalty means Sunak can pay a fine to avoid a court hearing.
The police did not disclose how much they had fined the prime minister, but according to the government’s safety campaign, any driver or passenger not wearing a seatbelt is breaking the law and is liable to be fined up to £500 if the case goes to court, according to The Guardian UK.
Sunak’s transportation habits were already a talking point in the United Kingdom before the incident, a report by AFP says.
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His political rivals have taken aim at his use of a private jet to make multiple short flights in recent days.
This is not the first time Sunak has been slapped with a police fine.
He was fined while serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer for attending a Downing Street party in June 2020 that violated the government’s rules on social distancing, according to an AFP report.
The latest fine makes Sunak the second Conservative prime minister to receive a police fine in less than 12 months. The Metropolitan police, in 2020, issued a fixed-penalty notice to Boris Johnson for attending a party during lockdown. Sunak was fined for attending the same event as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
World’s Oldest Nun Dies At 118
French nun Sister André who was the world’s oldest known person died at age 118 in the southern French city of Toulon, the city’s mayor Hubert Falco said on Wednesday.
Born in the southern French town of Ales on Feb. 11, 1904, as Lucile Randon, Sister André was listed as the oldest person alive by the Gerontology Research Group in April 2022.
The Frenchwoman worked as a home teacher in her youth and did not enter a religious community until she was in her early 40s.
Most recently, Sister André was confined to a wheelchair, and for several years she could no longer see properly.
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She was an honorary citizen of Toulon, where she lived in a retirement home for several years.
Falco praised her as incredibly modern and a nun with a big heart.
Guinness World Records said Lucile, who took the name of Sister André in 1944, was the second-oldest French person and the second-oldest European person ever recorded.
More recently, Sister André received the record for the oldest COVID-19 survivor after an infection in 2021.
“It’s difficult to fathom that someone born before the patenting of plastic, zips or even bras were alive well into the 21st century, and robust enough to beat COVID-19’’, the Guinness World Records editor, Craig Glenday said in a statement.
“It’s been an honour to record her story in the pages of the Guinness World Records book, and she will live on in history as the fourth oldest person ever authenticated.’’
With her death, Maria Branyas Morera, who lived in Spain, assumed the title of the world’s oldest person at age 115.
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