News: Ahead of polls, Electoral Board admits lower level gov’t officials interference in polling station, calls for restraint

Birtukan Mideksa, Chairwoman of National Electoral Board of Ethiopia. Picture: NEBE

By Bileh Jelan @BilehJelan 

Addis Abeba, May, 22/2021 – The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) issued a statement, where it announced measures taken to limit interference of government officials in the voter registrations process as well as to ensure the transparency of the process by making records available to the public. 

The statement read discussing the interference of what it called low government officials, “The National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) has been conducting activities of the 6th General Election, completed voter registration, and made voter registration records open to the public. Although the voter registration process has almost been completed successfully, the Board has been notifying concerned parties in various ways about the interference of low-level government officials (especially woreda, kebele, etc.).” The statement continued detailing steps taken by the board, “Recently, the Board visited the polling stations to monitor the registration process, followed up with grievances received through its call center, and deployed a monitoring team to review the registration process. Accordingly, the Board noted that low-level government officials intervened at polling stations without obtaining party agent identification, requesting information from polling station workers, and in some cases tried to see the voter register and obtain information.” 

In the short statement, the board described such interference as ‘serious violation of both the election law and the penal code’, highlighting the sensitivity of the timing of such interference as  polling day approaches. The statement then detailed measures taken by the board, these being; First the complete ban of lower-level government officials (kebele, woreda) or any other unauthorized body from being present at or near any polling station within 200 meters, the issuance of badges to party agents, the denial of information and presence within 200 meters of any individual without a party agent badge, and finally the prevention of government official from moving election-related materials without the approval of the board or under special security circumstances. 

The statement concluded by saying, ”In this case, it is an election crime and the individuals who committed this act will be held accountable by the Electoral Law and the Penal Code. On this occasion, we urge Election Officers to disallow any lower-level government officials or other unauthorized persons to be present within 200 meters of polling stations and to never accept orders or directions unless it is from the Board.” 

This comes in the backdrop of the conclusion of voters’ registration activities on May 14, 2021. A process according to many observers and political parties tainted by scandals and irregularities. The process was hit with many scandals in Somali region which forced the NEBE to admit failure on its part and suspend the process in seven constituents in the region. The Oromia region and Addis Abeba were not spared from scandal with reports of misconduct and irregularities. Opposition parties operating in the region and the chartered city complained of the irregularities, casted doubts on the process and demanded decisive actions. The process was also tainted by contradicting statements from the board and senior government officials on the number of registered voters. 

These issues coupled with the worsening conditions of human rights and security situation led the European Union (EU) to cancel its electoral observation mission and raised questions concerning the electoral process including voters’ registration. The statement read, “The integrity of an electoral observation mission is a cornerstone of the EUs support for democracy. The EU regrets the refusal of the fulfilment of standard requirements for the deployment of any Electoral Observation Mission, namely the independence of the Mission and the import of mission communication systems, something that is key for the security of EU observers, in particular in the context of a challenging security environment. This situation also impacts election preparations, including voter registration.” Which led to the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign affairs through its spokesperson to claim that the mission has not been canceled and Addis Standard confirming otherwise through its diplomatic source. AS

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