Ethiopia has postponed parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for August due to the coronavirus outbreak, the electoral commission has announced.

The August polls had been seen as a key test of the reformist agenda of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in what was once one of the continent’s most repressive nations.

“Because of issues related to the coronavirus, the board has decided it can’t conduct the election as planned… so it has decided to void that calendar and suspend all activities,” the poll body said in a statement on Tuesday.

It said a new date would be given “when the pandemic is over”.  

Jawar Mohammed, a leading opposition politician, told AFP news agency that a new calendar “cannot be done by the ruling party alone”. 

Ethiopia has recorded 25 cases of COVID-19 and federal and regional officials have introduced a range of measures intended to curb its spread, including banning large gatherings and restricting travel.  

These measures would have prevented the timely completion of activities like voter registration and the recruitment and training of observers, the election commission said.

Ethiopia is Africa’s second-most populous nation. When Abiy took power in 2018, he promised to liberalise the state-run economy and introduced reforms that saw thousands of political prisoners released.

He had promised to hold free and fair elections in August when his party would have faced a stiff challenge from many ethnically-based parties newly emboldened by his reforms.

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