Ethiopians vote on Monday in national and regional elections that the prime minister has billed as proof of his commitment to democracy after decades

Ethiopians vote on Monday in national and regional elections that the prime minister has billed as proof of his commitment to democracy after decades

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, 44, oversaw sweeping political and economic reforms after his appointment in 2018 by the ruling coalition. But some rights activists say those gains are being reversed and complain of abuses in a war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, charges the government denies.

Abiy said last week the vote would be the “first attempt at free and fair elections” in Ethiopia, whose once rapidly growing economy has been hit by conflict and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ethiopians vote on Monday in national and regional elections that the prime minister has billed as proof of his commitment to democracy after decades of repressive rule in Africa’s second-most populous nation.

Abiy’s reforms include lifting a ban on dozens of political parties and media outlets, releasing tens of thousands of political prisoners and easing restrictions on political gatherings.

But Fisseha Tekle from rights group Amnesty International said the government was still quashing dissent using a revised anti-terrorism law and new hate speech legislation that can lead to prison terms for online content.

“The government is using these laws to arrest people and keep them in prison for a long time,” Fisseha said.

In the capital, many construction projects have paused as growth has slowed in what until recently was one of Africa’s fastest expanding economies, leaving tattered sheeting covering skeletons of unfinished buildings.

Many voters are more concerned about reviving the economy than democratic reforms.

Abiy has promised to bring in foreign investment and speed up electrification by filling a giant $4 billion hydropower dam on the Blue Nile, stoking tension with Egypt and Sudan, which fear the Nile water supplies they rely on might be interrupted.

But annual inflation is now about 20% and growth is forecast at just 2% this year after topping 10% before the pandemic.

“The cost of living is increasing,” said shopkeeper Murad Merga, whose window was adorned with ruling party posters.

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