Even in normal times Ethiopia’s plans to hold national elections in August would have been fraught with uncertainty. Would they be free and fair? Would they help restore peace to a country riven by ethnic violence? Now, with the polls postponed indefinitely by covid-19, Ethiopia is approaching a constitutional crisis.

By law Ethiopia’s parliament will reach the end of its constitutional five-year term on October 5th. That could leave the country without a legitimate parliament or government. Abiy Ahmed, a young reformer who took office in 2018 promising democracy after massive protests, says that because of the exceptional circumstances of the pandemic his government will stay in charge until elections can be held safely.

The delay has prompted a backlash from opposition leaders. Many of them had suspected long before the outbreak of covid-19 that Abiy’s Prosperity Party would try to rig or postpone the elections: its predecessor suppressed the opposition so thoroughly in 2015 that it won 95% of the vote.

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