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A Fractured Ethiopia Goes to the Polls

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed seeks a popular mandate to continue reforms, but carnage in Tigray is eroding international support.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed acknowledges a crowd of supporters at a stadium in Jimma, Ethiopia.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed acknowledges a crowd of supporters at a stadium in Jimma, Ethiopia, on June 16. MARCO LONGARI/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Ethiopia holds parliamentary elections, Iran’s nuclear power plant goes offline, and the world this week. 

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Ethiopia holds parliamentary elections, Iran’s nuclear power plant goes offline, and the world this week. 

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Abiy Seeks First Victory in Ethiopia’s Election

Ethiopians vote Monday in parliamentary elections as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed seeks a mandate to continue reforms launched in 2018, as some observers warn of a slide toward the country’s authoritarian past.

Not all of the parliament’s 547 seats will be up for grabs in the vote. Two regional states—Harar and Somali—will vote in September due to logistical problems, while Tigray, a region that has been in a state of civil war since November, will not vote at all.

The war in Tigray, which appeared to end with a swift military victory for government forces in November, has evolved into a low-level insurgency as forces loyal to the once-dominant Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) continue the fight. The situation is further complicated by the incursion of troops from neighboring Eritrea, who have remained on the ground despite assurances from the Ethiopian government of their imminent departure.

Famine in Tigray. Tigray’s people have been devastated by the fighting. This month, the United Nations estimated that at least 350,000 people in Tigray are experiencing famine while 5.5 million—roughly 80 percent of Tigray’s population—face food insecurity.

As the war goes on, international rights groups have documented mass killings of civilians from all sides in the conflict, although Tigrayans appear to have borne the brunt of the most recent spate of attacks. Last Thursday, the African Union announced a commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of human rights violations in Tigray.

International pressure. At its most recent summit, the G-7 called for an “immediate cessation of hostilities, unimpeded humanitarian access to all areas and the immediate withdrawal of Eritrean forces,” citing deep concern amid reports of an “unfolding major humanitarian tragedy.”

Individual powers have already taken action: The European Union froze $107 million in budget support to Ethiopia over humanitarian access to Tigray, while the United States issued visa restrictions against top officials on both sides of the conflict and suspended part of its $1 billion aid package to Ethiopia.

On course for victory. As Western powers sour on him, the domestically popular Abiy is on course for victory, promising to unify the country. “The whole world is saying we will fight [each other], but we will show them differently,” Abiy told a packed stadium of supporters last week.

His spokesperson, Billene Seyoum, has decried the “character assassination” inflicted on Abiy by the international press and insists he is doing what is right for the country. “The prime minister need not be a darling of the West, East, South, or North,” she said last week. “It is sufficient that he stands for the people of Ethiopia and the development of the nation.”

The World This Week

On Tuesday, June 22, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken begins a weeklong trip to Europe with stops planned in Germany, France, and Italy to meet with each country’s head of government and foreign minister.

On Wednesday, June 23, the United Nations and Germany host the Second Berlin Conference on Libya. Representatives from Libya’s transitional government will attend for the first time.

On Thursday, June 24, the European Parliament votes on the new EU climate law, which would increase emissions reduction targets from 40 percent to at least 55 percent by 2030.

European heads of state and government gather in Brussels for a two-day European Council leaders summit.

A nuclear monitoring agreement between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran expires Thursday after a one-month extension in May.

On Friday, June 25, Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh is sworn in as president of Mongolia.

On Saturday, June 26, former U.S. President Donald Trump makes his first major public appearance since losing last November’s presidential election at a rally in Ohio.

On Sunday, June 27, France holds the second round of regional elections.

What We’re Following Today

North Korea talks. U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Sung Kim meets with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts in Seoul on Monday. The meeting comes as U.S National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan noted the “interesting signal” sent by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in his comments last week that he is ready for “dialogue and confrontation” with Washington. Sullivan added that the Biden administration would wait for a clearer message from Pyongyang before it would consider talks. “The clear signal they could send is to say, “Yes, let’s do it. Let’s sit down and begin negotiations,’” Sullivan told ABC News.

Armenia’s election. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s early election gamble appears to have paid off, as his Civil Contract party builds a healthy lead over other parties as vote counting continues. Preliminary results show that Pashinyan’s party has won 54 percent of the vote, while a rival bloc placed second with only 21 percent. (His rivals claim the election was fraudulent.)

If the trend holds, Pashinyan should be able to form a government and seek to quell the unrest that has plagued the country since he signed a cease-fire deal with Azerbaijan to end the most recent Nagorno-Karabakh conflict—a move his detractors consider a humiliation.

Iran’s nuclear power. Iran’s only nuclear power plant experienced an unexplained emergency shutdown on Sunday that authorities say could last through the week. Tavanir, Iran’s state electric company, said repair work would continue until Friday but offered no further details. Gholamali Rakhshanimehr, an official with Tavanir, has warned of power outages as a result of the plant shutdown.

Sweden’s government. Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven faces a no-confidence vote Monday in the parliament after failing to secure support for a plan to reform Sweden’s system of rent control. Lofven is set to lose the vote, which could either lead to a new government or a snap election.

Keep an Eye On

Israel-Iran tensions. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett labeled Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi a “hangman,” warning world powers about returning to the 2015 nuclear agreement as international talks resumed in Vienna. Raisi won Friday’s election with 62 percent of the vote amid historically low voter turnout—just 48.8 percent. It is the lowest turnout on record since the Iran’s 1979 revolution.

Writing in Foreign Policy, Sajjad Safaei of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology cautions against reducing Raisi to a zealot or a hard-liner. To do so, Safaei argues, would “miss the most overriding component of his political persona: his shrewd opportunism.”

French politics. The National Rally, the party of French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, failed to meet pollster expectations in France’s first round of regional elections on Sunday as turnout fell to a record low of roughly 31.5 percent. According to exit polls, Le Pen’s party appeared to have eked out a first-round victory in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, but the tight margin bodes ill for the party’s chances ahead of next week’s second-round vote. Writing in Foreign Policy, Fleur McDonald looks at the town of Beaucaire, where the National Rally’s young mayor, Julien Sanchez, has been at the vanguard of the party’s campaign of “de-demonization.”

Odds and Ends

Robert Schuman, already considered a giant of recent history as co-founder of the European Union and NATO, is on track to receive an unlikely honor for a politician. On Saturday, Pope Francis put Schuman on the path to sainthood by granting him “venerable” status—approving a decree that recognized the “heroic virtues” of Schuman and his closeness to the Catholic Church.

The church must now investigate Schuman’s life for evidence of a miracle attributable to the former French prime minister, foreign minister, and finance minister before he can proceed a step closer to sainthood. The announcement is a victory for the French Institut Saint Benoît, which has pushed for Schuman to receive the title since 1988.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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