News: Voters casting ballots in rerun referendum to decide Wolaita zone’s fate

Voters queued outside polling station in Wolaita zone referendum (Photo: NEBE)

Addis Abeba – Voters in Wolaita zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s region (SNNP) are casting their ballots in a rerun referendum to decide whether the zone should join five other zones (Konso, South Omo, Gamo, Gedeo and Gofa) and five special districts (Burji, Basketo, Ale, Amaro, Derashe) who voted to establish a new “Southern Ethiopia Region” in a referendum held on 06 February.

According to the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) the referendum is ongoing in 1812 polling stations in the Wolaita zone, where the result of the February referendum was annulled due to massive irregularities pre and during election process and complaints of vote fraud.

NEBE verified and approved the results of the referendum except in Wolaita zone where it said “activities considered as serious operational violations” were committed in several polling stations in the Zone, as a result opted to hold rerun.

Mismatching of voters signatures, deleting and re configuring election result papers, suspicious 100% voters turnout, involvement of local officials by handing out temporary IDs for voters on the election day etc, are among the many serious procedural violations that NEBE reported to have occurred.

The annulled referendum was a result of decisions by the councils of ten Zones and six special districts in SNNP regional state to restructure a merger in order to create two more regional states, bringing the would be number of new regional states out of the SNNP into four.

Despite procedural stumbles, the referendum went ahead and the zones and specials woredas have voted in favor of restructuring their administrative units into a newly organized regional state to be named “Southern Ethiopia Region.”

Today’s vote in Wolaita zone is considered significant in determining the fate of the zone, where a long lasting quest for statehood persisted since 2018, but has resulted in multiple violent crackdowns by security forces. In August 2020, regional security forces arrested leaders of the statehood movement including the then zonal Administrator Dagato Kumbe, consequently, these arrests were met with protests where security forces killed 21 people according to the Wolaita People’s Democratic Front party, and 18 individuals were injured in the deadly violence. AS

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