Ethiopia postpones elections as Burundi opts to continue with vote

World Health Organisation warns about the devastating impact coronavirus could have across African continent

Ethiopia has postponed August elections due to the coronavirus pandemic but Burundi says it will go ahead with a vote scheduled for May 20th.

The upcoming Ethiopian elections were supposed to be the first free and fair ones, with multiple parties contesting. Prime minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy Ahmed promised to turn the country into a fully-fledged democracy after he came to power in 2018.

Ethiopia has confirmed 55 coronavirus cases of the virus and has reported two deaths.

Burundi – a landlocked country in the Great Lakes Region, which has confirmed three coronavirus cases – is still scheduled to have elections on May 20th. Both the opposition and the ruling party have been holding campaign events and rallies, despite advice to impose social distancing.

Vice president Gaston Sindimwo said this week there iwas no chance of elections being delayed.

“We have already recorded cases of coronavirus on Burundian soil but that will not prevent the holding of the elections in May 2020 because we are a people blessed by God, only, we will have to change some habits,” he said.

Malawi is also still expected to hold an election on July 2nd. The vote will be historic, ordered by the country's constitutional court in February after it annulled the results of the May 2019 election on the grounds of irregularities. It was only the second election result ever to be cancelled across Africa, after the Kenyan supreme court annulled the results of a 2017 presidential vote.

"Of course there have been concerns from some people to stop the registration as one way of coronavirus prevention but so far the Malawi electoral commission is still registering people," said Malawian journalist Sarah Munthali. Malawi has eight confirmed coronavirus cases, including one death.

David Kode, campaigns lead at Civicus, a South Africa-based non-profit aimed at strengthening civil society, said there was concern that countries might go ahead with elections at times that they knew millions of voters would be unwilling to turn out to cast a ballot, as a means of ensuring success for the ruling party.

Fewer people

“The big worry is for states who go ahead with elections knowing fully well that fewer people will participate as they take precautions and self-isolate. The decision by the government of Ethiopia to move elections scheduled for August 2020 is a step in the right direction,” he said.

Both Mali and Guinea have held elections since coronavirus was declared a pandemic, with Mali seeing a low turnout.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation continues to warn about the devastating impact that coronavirus could have across the African continent if it continues spreading.

"Covid-19 has the potential not only to cause thousands of deaths, but to also unleash economic and social devastation. Its spread beyond major cities means the opening of a new front in our fight against this virus," said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa on Wednesday, as the number of confirmed cases in Africa passed 10,000.