Ethiopia referendum: Sidama poll could test Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed

Sun Online Desk

20th November, 2019 06:21:38 printer

Ethiopia referendum: Sidama poll could test Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed


A referendum in the south of Ethiopia is being seen as a test of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's abilities to control the forces of ethnic nationalism, which have threatened to increase divisions within the country, reports BBC.

More than two million people in what is known as the Sidama zone are able to vote on whether they want their own regional state within Ethiopia's federal system.

Voting got off to a calm start on Wednesday morning with long queues of people being seen in the main city, Hawassa.

The referendum will see if tensions around ethnic separatism can be resolved peacefully.

Also, ahead of a general election scheduled for May next year, the vote is a test for the country's electoral process.

Why is this happening now?

Since coming to power in April 2018, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been praised for his wide-ranging liberalising reforms.

He has transformed what was considered a tightly controlled security state. He also spearheaded a peace process with long-time foe Eritrea - a move which won him this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

But his more relaxed approach to organisations and parties campaigning for greater rights for different ethnic groups has lifted the lid on underlying tensions. Clashes in different parts of the country have forced an estimated three million people from their homes in the past 20 months.