Elections 2021 In-depth

Ethiopia’s 2021 elections: rules, actors, and mechanisms

The parties, proclamations, and other details of this year’s federal, regional and city polls.

Ethiopia is set to hold the sixth general elections of the federal republic in June 2021. The government and the ruling Prosperity Party have promised to hold free, fair, and credible elections. Nonetheless, there is a dearth of information and analysis on the process. This article aims to clarify the rules, actors, and dispute-resolution mechanisms that are key to the June 2021 general elections—as well as offering some analysis of Ethiopia’s changing political landscape.

  1. Electoral system

Ethiopia has a parliamentary system of government with the federal House of Peoples’ Representative (HoPR) and regional State Councils as the highest legislative organs. It follows the first-past-the-post electoral rule on the basis of universal suffrage and direct and secret ballots.[1]

At the federal level, the political party or coalition of parties that wins an absolute majority in the HoPR forms and leads the executive branch and approves the appointment of the Prime Minister and members of the Council of Ministers.[2] Likewise, the political party or coalition with a majority in State Council appoints the chief administrator/president and regional cabinet members.

There are five types of elections in Ethiopia: general elections, local elections, by-elections, re-elections, and referenda.[3]  General elections[4] are elections for members of the HoPR and State Councils conducted every five years (although the sixth election was delayed for one year because of the COVID-19 pandemic). For the purpose of the electoral system, Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa Councils are considered as regional State Councils.[5] In principle, general elections are supposed to be conducted throughout the country simultaneously. Only one HoPR member is elected from each constituency while more than one member of a regional State Council may be elected from a single electoral constituency based on the decision of the region.

The maximum number of representatives who can be elected to the HoPR is 550.[6] The number of members who can be elected to State Councils is determined by regional states. However, regions are required to pass a final decision on the number of State Council members six months before the commencement of candidates’ registration. [7]

Local elections[8] are elections for council members of a nationality zone, zone, wereda, city, sub-city or kebele.  The number of representatives for local elections is determined by regional laws.[9]

By-elections[10], as with all votes, are conducted by the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) at the request of councils to fill a seat of a representative vacant for various reasons or when a recall of a representative is approved by law. NEBE is required to hold by-elections within six months after receiving the request except in cases where the council requesting the by-elections is left with a term of six months or less.

Re-elections[11] are conducted when NEBE cancels an election result and orders re-election, when the Federal Supreme Court accepts a petition and passes a decision that requires re-election, or when candidates receive an equal number of votes and there is no clear winner.

Referendum[12] is carried out on the basis of a decision of an organ authorized under the Federal Constitution or other relevant laws to assess public interest or garner a public decision.

  1. Political party registration and income

2.1 Rules of registration

The Electoral Law defines political parties as entities established by Ethiopian nationals who intend to hold political power by contesting in elections.[13] A political party may operate in Ethiopia only upon registration and issuance of a certificate of legal personality by NEBE.[14] A political party is barred from registration if it has foreign nationals as members; its symbols, objectives, and rules encourage violence and hatred; or it excludes persons from being members or supporters on the basis of ethnicity, religion, or identity.[15]

The Electoral Law obliges all political parties hitherto registered under the repealed political party registration Proclamation No. 573/2008 to go through a new process of certification within a timeline set by NEBE or risk cancellation.[16] On 5 January 2020, NEBE issued a directive that explains the details of the new criteria and timeline of certification for all political parties. [17]

The most contested new criterion[18] under the Electoral Law is the requirement to have at least 10,000 founding members for national parties, of whom a maximum of 40 percent are permanent residents of a single region and the remaining are permanent residents of at least four regions with a minimum of 15 percent distribution.[19] Similarly, regional parties are required to have 4,000 founding members, more than 60 percent of whom need to be permanent residents of a regional state.[20]

The other criteria include evidence showing a political party held its general meeting according to its by-laws, party program approved by a general meeting, party by-laws with all required details under the Electoral Law, and democratic election of party leaders according to party by-laws. [21]

To date, NEBE has canceled the license of 58 political parties who failed to fulfill the above requirements and approved the registration of the following 51 political parties under the Electoral Law.

Table 1: List of political parties registered by the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia as of January 22, 2021.[22]

No. Name of the Party National Party Regional Party
1 Afar Liberation Front Party R
2 Afar People’s Justice Democratic Party R
3 Afar People’s Party R
4 Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front R
5 Agew National Shengo R
6 All Ethiopian Unity Organization N
7 Amhara Democratic Force Movement R
8 National Movement of Amhara N
9 Arena Tigray for Democracy and Sovereignty R
10 Argoba People’s Democratic Organization R
11 Argoba Nationality Democratic Movement R
12 Balderas for True Democracy N
13 Benishangul People’s Freedom Movement for Peace and Democracy Organization R
14 Boro Democratic Party R
15 Donga People’s Democratic Party R
16 Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice and Democracy N
17 Ethiopian Democratic Union N
18 Ethiopian Freedom Party N
19 Ethiopian National Unity Party N
20 Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party N
21 Ethiopian Social Democratic Party N
22 Federalist Democratic Forum N
23 Freedom and Equality Party N
24 Gambella People’s Freedom Democratic Movement R
25 Gambella People’s Freedom Movement R
26 Gambella People Justice, Peace and Development Democratic Movement R
27 Gamo Democratic Party R
28 Gedio People Democratic Organization R
29 Harari Democratic Organization R
30 Hedase Party N
31 Hiber Ethiopia Democratic Party N
32 Kafa Green Party R
33 Kafa Peoples Democratic Union R
34 Kimant Democratic Party R
35 Mocha Democratic Party R
36 Mother Party N
37 New Generation Party N
38 Ogaden National Liberation Front R
39 Oromo Federalist Congress N
40 Oromo Freedom Movement R
41 Oromo Liberation Front R
42 Prosperity Party N
43 Qucha People Democratic Party R
44 Raya Rayuma Party R
45 Sidama Freedom Movement R
46 Sidama Hadicho People’s Democratic Organization R
47 Sidama Unity Party
48 Tigray Democratic Party R
49 West Somali Democratic Party R
50 Wolayta National Movement R
51 Wolayta People’s Democratic Front R


2.2 Sources of income of political parties

Political parties may get income from the following four sources:  government funding, private donation or grant, fees from members, and fundraising events and transactions.[23]

1.Government funding

Government funding for a political party is calculated on the basis of the following criteria:[24]

  1. The number of votes it wins in general elections;
  2. The amount of income it collects from members and supporters;
  3. The number of female members, female leaders, and female election candidates;
  4. The number of members with disability, members with disability in leadership positions, and as election candidates.

With the exception of political parties representing minority nationalities, a political party will not receive government funding if it wins less than 0.25 percent of the total number of votes for the HoPR or less than 0.5 percent of the total votes cast for a State Council.[25] Political parties lose government funding for every criterion they fail to meet.

The sources of government funding are allocation from the government, foreign or local aid or support, and other sources.[26] Political parties are obliged to be transparent in their use of government funding and submit a certified financial report to NEBE, who has the mandate to administer the funding on the basis of the abovementioned criteria.[27]

2.Private donation or grant

Political parties can receive donations and grants from Ethiopian nationals and companies owned by Ethiopians. Private donations and grants have limits that will be set by NEBE.  Political parties are prohibited to receive donations and grants from unidentified sources; foreign nationals, companies, governments, and political parties; aid organizations; non-governmental organizations; religious organizations; prisoners serving sentences; individuals and groups who plan to assume state power through unconstitutional means; designated terrorist organizations; government development organizations; and individuals and groups who plan to receive undue or illegal gain.[28] Political parties are required to keep a permanent financial statement on all donations and grants of more than 5,000 birr.[29]

3.Membership fee

Membership fee is a regular contribution from members of political parties. Political parties are not obliged to pay income tax on membership fee and donation/grant they receive from their supporters.[30]

4.Fundraising events and transactions

Political parties are allowed to hold small-scale fundraising events such as conferences and acquire income from selling “paraphernalia, research findings, booklets, and magazines.”[31] However, political parties are prohibited from directly or indirectly engaging in any commercial or industrial activity. [32]

  1. Election campaign

Candidates can launch their election campaign from the day of receiving their certificate of candidature.[33] They are required to end their election campaign four days before the election day. Hence, NEBE has set 15 February to 31 May 2021 as election campaign months.[34]

Government officials at all levels are obliged to facilitate the use of public resources such as assembly halls and state-owned media for election campaigning without discrimination between candidates.[35] Candidates, political parties competing in elections, and their supporters can hold rallies and peaceful demonstrations to publicize their political programs and agitate voters. Candidates have the duty to notify in writing the pertinent government unit 48 hours before the intended rally or demonstration.[36] The government, for reasons of peace and security, may propose another time and place for the rally or the demonstration.[37] Nonetheless, the government does not have mandate to prohibit rallies and demonstrations.

Candidates and political parties have the right to free and fair use of state-owned media including radio, TV, and newspapers for election campaign.[38] NEBE and the Broadcasting Authority are obliged to consult candidates and political parties and issue a directive on fair allocation of air time and space for candidates and competing political parties on state-owned media.[39] NEBE is also required to issue a code of conduct on the use of private media and social media by candidates and political parties during the election campaigns.[40]

Candidates and political parties are required to abide by the electoral code of conduct, the election campaign code of conduct to be issued by NEBE, the electoral law, and other relevant laws. The electoral code of conduct requires candidates and political parties to respect the rights of competitors, voters, journalists, and the wider public during their election campaign.[41]

Intimidating competitors, voters and journalists, inciting violence, and using public resources for election campaign are violations of the electoral code of conduct.[42] Moreover, election campaigns cannot be carried out in churches, mosques, military camps and police stations, government and public institutions during regular working hours, places where other public meetings are in progress, within a 200-meter radius of educational institutions when school is in session,  and within a 200-meter radius of a market place while trading is in progress.[43]

  1. Electoral code of conduct

 The electoral code of conduct provides the minimum set of rules that should be followed by candidates and supporters, members, agents, and officials of political parties during election campaign, voting, and after election results are announced.[44]

The code of conduct requires candidates and political parties, among others, to conduct campaigns peacefully, respect the rights of competing candidates/political parties, respect the secrecy of ballots and cooperate with election officials and observers, recognize and accept elections as expressions of the free and legitimate decision of voters. [45]

 The code of conduct specifies the responsibilities of candidates, political parties, and election officials to acquaint supporters, members, voters, officials and the wider public with the code of conduct rules and the rights and duties under the Electoral Law. [46]

The commission of acts that violate the code of conduct by candidates and political parties (supporters, members, agents, officials) such as inciting violence, abuse of power, corruption, failure to cooperate with election officials, election observers, and media will result in sanctions that range from a temporary ban from using media to cancellation from the election process by NEBE.[47]

  1. The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia

The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) was established in 1992.  To date, NEBE has carried out five general elections, two local elections, and six referenda.[48] In June 2019, NEBE was re-established as an independent institution accountable to the HoPR (the same legal status a 2007 proclamation had given the previous electoral board) with authority to execute elections both at the federal and state constituencies, register and regulate political parties, conduct civic and voter education on elections, license and supervise election observers, and grant permission and supervise activities of civil society organizations related to elections.[49]

The Management Board is NEBE’s permanent and highest executive and policy organ.[50] It is composed of the Chairperson, Deputy Chairperson, and three members appointed by the HoPR upon recommendation by the Prime Minister in consultation with opposition political parties, although this consultation process is not clearly defined.[51] The Management Board is led by the Chairperson, who is the chief executive officer of NEBE.[52] Decisions of the Management Board are passed by majority vote with a quorum of three members.[53]

In order to be appointed as a member of the Management Board, a person must be an Ethiopian citizen who is not a member of any political party and should possess advanced professional qualifications with good leadership capacity and character.[54]

Table 2: Overview of NEBE organizational set-up and main tasks.

Management Board

– Chairperson, Deputy Chairperson, three members appointed by the HoPR.

-Members with a term of office of six years and protection from arrest/prosecution without the permission of the HoPR except in the case of a member caught in the act of committing a serious crime.

-Permanent organ that leads and supervises all activities and organs of the NEBE including establishing and managing branch offices, constituencies, and polling stations.



-Executive office led by a Chief Executive Officer and Deputy Executive Officer appointed by and accountable to the Management Board.

-Supports the Management Board, its Chairperson, and branch offices.


Branch Offices

-At least one branch office established for each regional state, Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa.

-Led by heads appointed by the Management Board among residents of each regional state.

-Coordinate and lead all election processes in the region under the direction of the Management Board.


Coordinating offices

-Temporary or permanent offices that may be established by the Management Board to support branch offices on the basis of the size of regional states, settlement patterns, and the number of voters.



-Each constituency run by an election administration committee with three members.

– Register election candidates, supervise polling stations, investigate election complaints.

-A maximum of 550 constituencies for general elections established on the basis of Woreda administration.

-Not more than 15 % population deviation between constituencies with the exception of constituencies of minority people.

-Proportional constituencies for local elections on the basis of regional laws and the number of council seats and voters.


Polling Stations

-Each polling station run by a committee of five election officials.

-Register voters, conduct elections in secret ballot, investigate election complaints.

-Maximum of 1500 voters for one polling station.

-Mobile polling stations for pastoralists and special polling stations for voters who are away from their constituency such as military personnel, internally displaced persons, university students, and incarcerated persons.

In the last two years, NEBE has carried out several parallel activities such as the Sidama referendum, the certification of political parties, issuing directives required to implement the Electoral Law, coordinating and supporting the joint council and forum of political parties, and preparing for the 2021 general elections while building its organizational capacity both at the center and in its branch offices in 10 regional states, Addis Ababa, and Dire Dawa.[55]

Nevertheless, several factors have negatively affected the performance of NEBE including the reorganization of its Management Board and the promulgation of new rules on election and political party registration close to the general elections, the weak and volatile party system, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the security and political turbulence in some regional states.

On 8 January 2021, NEBE announced the dates for general elections in all constituencies except Tigray region.[56]

Table 3: Key dates of NEBE’s calendar for the June 2021 general elections.[57]

Date Event
25 December 2020-24 January 2021 Opening of constituency offices
25 January-28 February Voter education on candidate registration
15-28 February Registration of candidates
15 February-31 May Election campaigning
2 March Publication of list of constituencies
1-30 March Registration of voters
31 March-19 April Public display of electoral roll
31 March-1 April Publication of list of candidates
24 April-10 June Voter education on voter registration
1-4 June Campaign silence period
5 June Voting day for general elections
5 June South West Ethiopia Referendum[58]
12 June Voting day for Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa
5-6 June Announcement of election results at polling stations for general elections
12-13 June Announcement of election results at polling stations for Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa
6-10 June Announcement of election results at constituencies for general elections
13-18 June Announcement of election results at constituencies for Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa.
6-28 June Announcement of final election results by NEBE


  1. Political Parties

The party system in Ethiopia is made up of a dominant ruling party and several weak and volatile opposition parties.[59] From 1991 to 2019, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and its allied parties controlled the federal parliament and regional councils.[60] In November 2019, the EPRDF was replaced by the new ruling Prosperity Party, which is the dominant party owing to, among other factors, its incumbency, membership networks, geographic coverage, and financial resources.

The Prosperity Party was initially established by three former coalition members of the EPRDF but soon expanded its membership and geographic coverage when five former regional parties joined the party. [61] Currently, the Prosperity Party controls the federal parliament and all but one regional state council.[62]

The notable feature of the party system is ethnicity, the main tool of political mobilization and organization in Ethiopia for more than two decades. The EPRDF, which was itself an alliance of four ethnic parties, actively encouraged the establishment of ethnic political parties in large number.[63]  Although the few multiethnic and non-ethnic political parties are by design national parties,[64] they operate in the context of the federal system that organizes the country into administrative units that were generally ‘drawn around’ ethnic-linguistic settlement patterns. Consequently, ethnic mobilization features strongly in the party system.

Most political parties are mono-ethnic parties registered to operate in specific regions thereby causing extreme fragmentation of the party system.[65] The majority of the multiethnic and non-ethnic political parties registered to operate nationwide are in fact limited to specific regions and urban centers due to factors that include weak voter and membership networks and links, and the exclusionary nature of ethnic mobilization.[66]

For decades, the party system comprised several peoples’ organizations, liberation fronts, and movements that espoused ethnic narratives as a political strategy aimed at mobilizing large number of supporters from the ethnic groups they claim to liberate or represent. Consequently, the relation between political parties is highly polarized, making it very difficult for political parties to establish meaningful linkage in order to negotiate and manage their differences and expectations.

Another feature of the party system that adds to its volatility is the rise and fall of large number of political parties and alliances over the years. By 2019, over 100 political parties have been registered in Ethiopia.[67] Most of the political parties remained dormant with occasional or no participation in elections and other political activities over the years. In 2020, the National Electoral Board revoked the license of over 50 political parties.[68]

Several alliances have been formed by political parties since 1991. Most of the alliances fall apart without achieving their objectives because of factors that include lack of common policy objectives, clientelism, and severe repression.[69] The short life span of political parties and alliances have militated against the emergence of strong political parties who could be stable contenders of political power.

The lack of change in the leadership of most political parties is another feature of the party system. Most political parties are led and controlled by the same individuals for decades without succession plans for party leaders. The lack of change in leadership is closely linked with the fact that most political parties are established by popular individuals who remained indispensable for the financial and political life of the parties.

In the words of Merera Gudina, “Political parties have been largely collection of personalities with little institutionalization. As a result, leaders can easily make or break political parties; make or break coalitions for little profit; or obstruct decisions of political parties, if they so wish, and far worse–parties are sometimes the private property of one or few individuals.”[70]

3. The Joint Council of Political Parties

The Joint Council of Political Parties is a council established by political parties to support continuous dialogue between them on common issues and resolve their differences amicably.[71] The Joint Council also serves as a forum of dialogue between political parties, the government, and NEBE. In March 2019 members of the Joint Council signed a code of conduct to regulate their relation and behavior on elections and other national issues.[72]

The political parties have also adopted rules of procedure for the implementation of the code of conduct and operationalization of the organs of the Joint Council.[73] Nonetheless, the Joint Council is challenged by several aspects of the volatile party system. For instance, the number of political parties who are members of the Joint Council are precipitously reduced to those certified by NEBE on the basis of the criteria in the Electoral Law.[74]

  1. Voters

An Ethiopian citizen who is 18 years of age or older and who has resided within a constituency for at least six months is eligible to register as a voter.[75]  However, a person can’t register as a voter if their electoral rights are restricted by law or court or if they have a mental disorder verified by authorized institution or by sufficient evidence. [76]

Voters are required to appear in person at polling stations with identification cards for registration.[77]  The government is obliged to issue identification cards to all Ethiopian nationals who have attained the age of majority.[78] Nevertheless, the Electoral Law provides the following alternative documents and processes that can be used to identify individuals for voter registration at polling stations:[79]

  1. Kebele identification card or Passport, even if expired;
  2. Driving license, residence identification card, military discharge document, student identification card;
  3. Recognition of the voter’s identity by registration officers; or in rural areas, identification through traditional or customary process, and when the process is entered in minutes;
  4. Testimonies of three individuals who have lived for long in the Kebele where the polling station is established, and when the process is entered in minutes.

Registration officers may use a combination of any of the above documents and processes if they cannot establish voter identity based on only one of the above methods[80]  Voter registration should be done only at polling stations.[81] However, NEBE may authorize special registration procedures such as mobile registration stations or door-to-door voter registration for pastoralists.[82]

Voter registration is done on the date fixed by NEBE in the presence of at least three of the five election officials running each polling station.[83]  NEBE has the mandate to designate a special registration day for voters faced with force majeure such as illness, war, and natural disaster.[84]  Once a person is verified as eligible to vote, their name will be entered in the electoral roll and will be issued with a voter identification card. [85]

The electoral roll contains voter registration number, personal details and signature of the voter, and the duration of residency of the voter in the constituency.[86] After voter registration is completed, each polling station is obliged to publically display the electoral roll for ten days and allow candidates, political parties, and their agents to inspect it.[87]

Voting begins simultaneously in all polling stations and runs from 6am to 6pm without interruption.[88]  Nonetheless, NEBE has the mandate to set separate voting days for some polling stations affected by exceptional circumstances and modify the voting hours upon notification of the public at least two days before the election day.[89] NEBE can also extend the voting hours when it believes such extension is necessary to make the election fair and free. [90]

  1. Candidates

 An Ethiopian citizen of 21 years of age or above, who was born or who has resided at least for one year at the constituency of the intended candidature, is eligible to register as a candidate to compete independently or on behalf of a political party.[91] In similar parlance with voter registration, in order to register as a candidate, a person’s electoral rights shouldn’t have been restricted by law or court or affected by declaration of insanity.[92] Unlike voter registration, the Electoral Law does not provide documents and processes that can be used to identify candidates when they come for registration. [93]

As an exception to the requirement of residency or birth, persons who intend to represent towns or districts with multiple constituencies can register as candidates in any of the constituencies if they have lived for two years in the town or district on work duty.[94]  In addition to the above requirements, candidates are obliged to secure minimum number of endorsements from eligible voters in their constituency and accept the election code of conduct to be issued by NEBE.[95]

The maximum number of candidates a voter may endorse is twice the number of seats in their constituency.[96] NEBE has submitted a request to the House of Peoples’ Representatives for the suspension of the mandatory requirement of endorsement signatures for candidates vying in the sixth general elections. NEBE has made the request supporting the appeal from political parties citing the COVID-19 pandemic and the short period of time left for candidate registration.[97]

Civil servants can register as candidates independently or through political parties.[98] A civil servant is “an individual who has been employed as a permanent staff by the federal or regional government offices” excluding ministers, state ministers and other similar high-level appointments at the federal and regional level, members of the House of Peoples’ Representatives, the House of Federation, and regional councils. [99]

Civil servants are required to take leave without pay during election campaign and election day.[100] According to NEBE, the rule is meant to prevent the use of public property by candidates and political parties.[101] Unlike civil servants, judges, prosecutors, soldiers, law enforcement and security agency personnel, and NEBE employees are required to resign from their work if they want to register as candidates.[102]

Registered candidates have the right not to be arrested except when they are caught in the act of committing a serious crime.[103] Where a candidate is suspected of committing a crime, they shall be held accountable after the final election results are announced by NEBE. An elected candidate can be held accountable for crimes committed during election only when their immunity is stripped by the council to which they are elected.[104]

  1. Media

A journalist is entitled to cover the election process. A journalist who intends to cover the election process is required to carry identification card from the media institution that employed them. The journalist is also required to hold a letter from their employer verifying their assignment to cover the election process and accept NEBE’s code of conduct on election coverage.[105] Furthermore, a journalist is required to get authorization from NEBE if they want to report from within 200 meters of a polling station.[106] Candidates and political parties are obliged to respect the freedom of the media and cooperate with journalists covering the election process.[107]

  1. Civil society organizations

Under Ethiopian Law, a civil society organization is defined as “non-governmental, non-partisan entity established at least by two or more persons on a voluntary basis and registered to carry out any lawful purpose, and includes non-government organizations, professional associations, mass-based societies, and consortiums.” [108] Local civil society organizations are essential actors in voter education and election observation.[109] NEBE has issued a directive on voter education that provides the criteria for accreditation and the code of conduct that should be followed by civil society organizations and their personnel involved in voter education.[110]

A local civil society organization duly registered and not involved in any political activity may apply for accreditation from NEBE to conduct voter education.[111] The civil society organization is required to have voter education and other election-related activities listed in its founding documents as part of its operational objectives.[112] Moreover, the organization is required to have capacity (such as skilled personnel in voter education methodologies and local languages)and a non-partisan, lawful source of funding to support its activities. [113]

In addition to the above and other requirements, the trainers of a civil society organization are required to abide by NEBE’s code of conduct on voter education, the violation of which may result in the cancelation of accreditation by NEBE.[114] On 21 January 2021 NEBE has issued accreditation for 24 local civil society organizations to conduct voter education.[115]

  1. Election observers

The Electoral law provides for local and international election observers. A local election observer is a registered local civil society organization authorized by NEBE to observe elections.[116] In order to acquire accreditation for election observation, a local organization must be non-partisan and not-for-profit.[117] Moreover, the organization must be able to deploy capable and impartial observers who should abide by the election observers’ code of conduct.[118]  NEBE is mandated to suspend the accreditation of a local election observer if the later violates the election observers’ code of conduct.[119]

International election observers are foreign governments, international organizations, and overseas governmental and non-governmental agencies invited to observe elections by the Ethiopian government on the basis of treaties ratified by Ethiopia.[120] In addition to the requirement of invitation by the government, international election observers are required to acquire accreditation from NEBE and abide by the election observers’ code of conduct and relevant international agreements.[121]

Election observers may seek and obtain information from election officials, political parties, and independent candidates [122] Moreover, election observers have the right to move in polling stations, inspect election documents, and monitor the election process including the voting and counting process.[123] They are also entitled to report irregularities in the election process to the NEBE Secretariat.[124] Election observers have a duty to submit a detailed report to NEBE at the end of their mission.[125]

9. Agents of independent candidates and political parties

An independent candidate and a political party competing in elections may field stationary and mobile agents at constituencies and polling stations.[126] Stationary agents are assigned by an independent candidate or a political party to a constituency or polling station “to observe the election process on-site” and safeguard the rights of the candidate.[127] Mobile agents are assigned by an independent candidate or a political party to observe the election process by moving across polling stations and safeguard the rights of candidates.[128]

Independent candidates and political parties can field two stationary and two mobile agents who work in turns in their constituency and polling stations.[129] The rights and duties of agents of independent candidates and political parties are similar with the rights and duties of election observers. However, unlike election observers, the absence of agents of independent candidates and political parties due to an act of third parties may give rise to a review of election activities and decisions carried out in their absence.[130]


The Electoral Law establishes an election grievances hearing and dispute resolution mechanism with the grievances hearing committee at its center and courts and NEBE as appellate organs. [131] The establishment of election benches at the federal and regional courts is underway.[132]  In addition to the grievance hearing committees, the Electoral Law provides for the establishment of a Joint Forum of Political Parties as a potential dispute resolution mechanism during elections.

  1. The Grievance Hearing Committee

The Grievance Hearing Committee (GHC) is established to pass administrative decisions on election complaints lodged at polling stations, constituencies, and NEBE’s regional branch offices.[133] The GHC is mandated to receive complaints on voter registration, candidate registration, voting, and vote counting and election results.[134]  The composition of the GHC is to be determined by NEBE.[135] Complaints and GHC decisions on the complaints are required to be made in writing within the time specified under the Electoral Law.[136]  Persons or political parties who fail to lodge their complaints within the specified time lose their right.[137]

The following table provides an overview of the GHC grievance hearing and dispute settlement process.

Table 4:  Types of election complaints, GHC and court jurisdiction, and time limits.




First Instance


First Appeal


Second Appeal

1. Voter registration


-Voters or third parties.


-Time: From the commencement of registration until the end of public display of electoral roll.


Polling Station GHC

-Decision in 5 days.

Constituency GHC

-Appeal on the lapse of 5 days or decision.


-Appeal within 5 days.


-Decision in 5 days.



Federal/Regional Court

-Appeal on the lapse of 5 days or decision.

-Appeal within 5 days.

-No time limit to pass decision.


2. Candidate registration


-Candidates, political parties, or third parties.


-Time: From the commencement of registration until the date of the public announcement of registered candidates.


Constituency GHC


-Decision in 5 days.


Regional Branch Office GHC


-Appeal within 7 days.


-Appeal on the lapse of 5 days or decision.


-Decision in 7 days.


Regional Supreme Court


-Appeal on the lapse of 7 days or decision.


-No fixed time to file appeal.


-Decision in 15 days.


3. Voting

-Voters or third parties.


-Promptly file complaint to the Polling Station GHR during voting.


Polling Station GHC


-Investigate and allow voter to cast vote; or


-Allow temporary vote and refer case to the Constituency GHC.



Constituency GHC


-Decision confirming or denying voting right before tabulation of votes.



Federal/Regional Court

-Appeal on decision of the Constituency GHC.

-Decision before tabulation of votes.

-Court may order stay of vote count until decision.


4. Vote counting and election results


-Candidates, political parties, or agents.



Polling Station GHC



-Decision immediately or no later than 12 hours.





-Appeal on decision within 2 days.



-Decision in 2 days.





-Appeal within 5 days.


– Decision in 10 days.





Federal Supreme Court


-Appeal within 10 days on NEBE’s decision.


-Decision in 1 month.



  1. The Joint Forum of Political Parties

The Joint Forum of Political Parties is an ad hoc forum to be organized by NEBE to resolve election disputes between political parties at polling stations and constituencies based on dialogue and negotiation. [138]  The Joint Forum operates based on the consent of all parties to a dispute. The use of the Joint Forum by a political party or its candidates does not affect its right to file complaints through the grievance hearing committees.

[1] Proclamation No.1/1995, The Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, 21 August 1995 (FDRE Constitution), Article 54; The Electoral, Political Parties Registration and Election’s Code of Conduct Proclamation No. 1162/2019 (Electoral Law), Article 4. https://nebe.org.et/sites/default/files/Ethiopian-Electoral-Proclamtion-No-1162.pdf.

[2] FDRE Constitution, Article 56.

[3] Electoral Law, Article 6.

[4] Electoral Law, Article 7.

[5] Electoral Law, Article 2(3).

[6]  FDRE Constitution, Article 54 (3); see Table 2 below on constituencies.

[7] Electoral Law, Article 7(4).

[8]  Electoral Law, Article 8.

[9] Nonetheless, the HoPR can enact standards for local elections on the basis of its mandate under the FDRE Constitution Article 51(15) & 55(2) (d).

[10]  Electoral Law, Article 9.

[11] Electoral Law, Article 10.

[12] Electoral Law, Article 11.

[13]  Electoral Law, Article 2 (13). Ethiopian nationality is acquired by descent and by law. See Proclamation No. 378/2003, A Proclamation on Ethiopian Nationality, Articles 3 and 4. www.refworld.org/docid/409100414.html.

[14] Electoral Law, Article 66(1).

[15] See Electoral Law, Article 69 for more grounds against the registration of political parties.

[16] Electoral Law, Article 160(2) and (3). The Revised Political Parties Registration Proclamation No. 573/2008 is repealed by the Electoral, Political Parties Registration and Election’s Code of Conduct Proclamation No. 1162/2019. There is no official list of all political parties that are registered or were in the process of registration on the basis of the repealed law.

[17] NEBE Directive on Political Parties Compliance with Registration Rules No.3/2020. See https://nebe.org.et/am/forms-guidelines for the Amharic version of the directive.

[18] Under the repealed political party registration proclamation No. 573/2008, the number of founders for national and regional parties was 1,500 and 750, respectively. Opposition political parties criticized the new criterion as unfairly restrictive since it requires a high number of founding members.

[19]  Electoral Law, Article 64(1) (a-d).

[20] Electoral Law, Articles 64(1) (a-d) and 65(1) (a &b). According to NEBE Directive on Political Parties Compliance with Registration Rules No.3/2020, Article 12, political parties were given two months as of the enactment of the directive to fulfill the criterion on founding members. However, the process took more time due to the COVID 19 pandemic and NEBE’s lack of capacity to verify the signatures.

[21] NEBE Directive on Political Parties Compliance with Registration Rules No.3/2020, Articles 13-17. According to Article 22 of the directive, political parties representing a small population (10-100 thousand) are exempted from meeting the requirements.

[22] There is no comprehensive official list of registered political parties. The list is prepared based on NEBE’s public statements on registered and canceled parties. N is for national parties, while R denotes regional parties. The classification of parties as national and regional is based on NEBE’s tables found at https://nebe.org.et/pdf/Board-Compliance-Review-National-Parties.pdf & https://nebe.org.et/pdf/Board-Compliance-Review%20-Regional-Parties.pdf. These tables are not conclusive. For instance, the tables list the Oromo Federalist Congress as both a national and a regional party.

[23] Electoral Law, Article 108 (1) & (2).  Independent candidates are also entitled to government funding on the basis of a directive to be issued by NEBE.

[24] Electoral Law, Article 100(2).

[25] Electoral Law, Article 100(3).

[26] Electoral Law, Article 110.

[27] Electoral Law, Article 104(1).

[28] Electoral Law, Article 109(1), (2). When a political party receives a donation, or grant despite its prohibition, it is required to return it to NEBE within 21 days with the necessary information such as its source and amount.

[29] Electoral Law, Article 111(1) (2).

[30] Electoral Law, Article 77(1).

[31] Electoral Law, Article 108(2).

[32] Electoral Law, Article 108(3).

[33] Electoral Law, Article 43 (1).

[34] See Table 3 below.

[35] Electoral Law, Article 45.

[36] The Proclamation to Provide for Peaceful Demonstration and Public Political Meetings Proclamation No. 3/1991, Article 4(1).

[37] The Proclamation to Provide for Peaceful Demonstration and Public Political Meetings Proclamation No. 3/1991, Article 6(2).

[38] Electoral Law, Article 44 (1).

[39] Electoral Law, Article 44 (3).

[40] Electoral Law, Articles 44(4) & 128(3).

[41] Electoral Law, Articles 129, 132, 134, 143, 144, 145.

[42] Electoral Law, Articles 142, 143, and 145.

[43] Electoral Law, Article 46.

[44] Candidates and political parties may agree to abide by additional code of conduct rules. Also, NEBE has the mandate to issue additional code of conduct rules governing the various aspects of the election process.

[45] Electoral Law, Articles 127-133.

[46] Election Law, Articles 138-141.

[47] Election Law, Articles 142-150. Criminal prosecution is also possible in case of grave violations.

[48] See https://nebe.org.et/am/about-nebe.

[49] National Electoral Board of Ethiopia Establishment Proclamation No. 1133/2019, Article 3.  For the full list of NEBE’s mandate, see Article 7 of the same proclamation. https://nebe.org.et/sites/default/files/Proc-133-NEBE.pdf

[50] National Electoral Board of Ethiopia Establishment Proclamation No. 1133/2019, Article 8.

[51] National Electoral Board of Ethiopia Establishment Proclamation No. 1133/2019, Article 5.

[52] See National Electoral Board of Ethiopia Establishment Proclamation No. 1133/2019, Article 9.

[53] National Electoral Board of Ethiopia Establishment Proclamation No. 1133/2019, Article 11(1), (2).

[54] National Electoral Board of Ethiopia Establishment Proclamation No. 1133/2019, Article 6.

[55] See https://nebe.org.et/am/reform. The NEBE official website says NEBE has finalized a few directives and is in the process of finalizing 22 directives out of the 39 directives it is required to issue. See https://nebe.org.et/am/forms-guidelines for some of the directives.

[56] According to NEBE, the election date for the regional state of Tigray is going to be fixed in consultation with the provisional administration of the region following the reconstitution of the regional administration including the regional police and other public institutions.

[57] National Election Board of Ethiopia, Election Calendar. Available at https://twitter.com/NEBEthiopia/status/1347558650827710464/photo/1.  According to NEBE, the separate date for the election of Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa councils are meant to avoid fragmentation of personnel and resources that may occur due to multiple constituencies for the HoPR and city council representatives.

[58] The South West Ethiopia referendum is a referendum for regional statehood by the Kaffa, Sheka, Bench Sheko, Dawuro and West Omo Zones, and Konta special district, all currently under the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ regional state. According to NEBE, conducting the referendum simultaneously with the general elections is efficient in terms of operation and cost.

[59] Party system is used here to refer the existence of several political parties in the context of a de jure multiparty electoral system. Nonetheless, it is arguable if Ethiopia has a party system. See, for instance, Mainwaring’s (1999:24) definition of a party system as ‘a set of parties that interact in patterned ways.’

[60] The EPRDF was an alliance of four ethnic parties lead and dominated by the Tigray People Liberation Front. The EPRDF designed a pool of ‘supporter’ regional ethnic political parties who subscribed to its policies and decisions.

[61] The Prosperity Party was established by the Oromo Democratic Party, the Amhara Democratic Party, and the Southern Ethiopia People’s Democratic Movement. The Afar National Democratic Party, the Benishangul Gumuz People’s Democratic Unity Front, the Ethiopian Somali People’s Democratic Party, the Gambela People’s Democratic Movement, and the Harari National League subsequently joined the Prosperity Party.  Following Horowitz (1985: 299-301), the Prosperity Party can be defined as a multiethnic political party primarily organized on the basis of group representation through its regional chapters.

[62] The regional state of Tigray is run by a provisional administration following the federal intervention in the state in November 2020.

[63] Horowitz(85:299) defines ethnic political parties as those focused on representing single ethnic groups.

[64] Horowitz(85:299-301), defines non-ethnic parties as those who focus on issue politics in addressing political, social, economic, and other cleavages with a primary focus on individual representation and liberty.

[65] Elischer(2013:31). Mono-ethnic parties are distinguished from ethnic alliances. See https://nebe.org.et/pdf/Board-Compliance-Review%20-Regional-Parties.pdf for a list of regional parties as of October 2019. See also Table 1 above.

[66] See Solomon (2014: 429-30); see Table 1 above for the list of multiethnic and non-ethnic political parties currently registered by the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia.

[67] See https://nebe.org.et/pdf/Board-Compliance-Review-National-Parties.pdf & https://nebe.org.et/pdf/Board-Compliance-Review%20-Regional-Parties.pdf.

[68] See https://nebe.org.et/am/political-parties-list; see also https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=854235188692085&id=414693405979601; See also https://www.ena.et/en/?p=19938.

[69] See Asnake (2011:692-94) for a list of possible factors.

[70] Merera Gudina (2007:15).

[71] Electoral Law, Article 141(1).

[72] https://addisfortune.news/parties-sign-code-of-conduct-ahead-of-election/.

[73]See https://nebe.org.et/pdf/PPs-covenant-document.pdf & https://nebe.org.et/pdf/internal-procedures.pdf.

[74] See Table 1 above for the list of political parties certified by NEBE.

[75]  Electoral Law, Article 18 (1).

[76] Electoral Law, Article 18 (3).

[77] Electoral Law, Article 5(4).

[78] Proclamation No. 378/2003, A Proclamation on Ethiopian Nationality, Article 13, (1-3). The age of majority in Ethiopia is 18 years.

[79] Electoral Law, Article 21(1-5).

[80] Electoral Law, Article 21(6).

[81] Electoral Law, Article 20(1).

[82]  Electoral Law, Article 20 (2).

[83]  Electoral Law, Article 21(10); see Table 3 above for NEBE’s election calendar.

[84] Electoral Law, Article 19(3) (4); NEBE Directive on Accreditation and Code of Conduct for Voter Education No.4/2020, Article 11(3).

[85] Electoral Law, Article 21 (8) & (9).

[86]  Electoral Law, Article 22.

[87]  Electoral Law, Article 26(1) (2).

[88]  Electoral Law, Articles 47(1), 49(1), & 53(1).

[89]  Electoral Law, Articles 47(2) & 49(2).

[90] Electoral Law, Article 49(4).

[91]  Electoral Law, Article 31(1) (a-c).

[92] Electoral Law, Article 31(1) (e) (f).

[93] See the section above on multiple documents and processes that can be used to identify voters.

[94]  Electoral Law, Article 31 (1) (d).

[95] Electoral Law Articles 31(1) (g), 31(3), 32(2). Minimum of 5,000 endorsement signatures for independent candidates & minimum of 3,000 signatures for candidates representing political parties are required.

[96] Electoral Law, Article 34.

[97] See https://nebe.org.et/am/page-faq.

[98]  Electoral Law, Article 33(1) (a).

[99]  Electoral Law, Article 2(29).

[100]  Electoral Law, Article 33 (1) (b).

[101] See https://nebe.org.et/am/page-faq.

[102]  Electoral Law, Article 33(2).

[103]  Electoral Law, Article 42(1).

[104] Electoral Law, Article 42(3).

[105] Electoral Law, Article 126(1), (3). See NEBE Directive on Election Coverage Code of Conduct for Media and Journalists No.2/2021 at https://nebe.org.et/am/forms-guidelines.

[106] Electoral Law, Article 126(1).

[107]  Electoral law, Articles 129 (1) (c), (2) (a), 146.

[108] Organizations of Civil Societies Proclamation No.1113/2019, Article 2(1).

[109] See section 8 below on election observation.

[110] NEBE Directive on Accreditation and Code of Conduct for Voter Education No.4/2020.

[111] See Electoral Law, Articles 115, and 125. NEBE has the primary mandate to conduct voter education. Local civil society organizations and higher education institutions can conduct voter education when accredited by NEBE.

[112] NEBE Directive on Accreditation and Code of Conduct for Voter Education No.4/2020, Article 8(1) (a).

[113] NEBE Directive on Accreditation and Code of Conduct for Voter Education No.4/2020, Article 8(1) (c), (3).

[114] Electoral law, Article 125(3).

[115] https://nebe.org.et/am/node/334

[116] Electoral Law, Article 2(20).

[117] Electoral Law, Article 115 (1) (a-d), (2) & (3). If NEBE rejects the request of a local organization for accreditation, it is required to notify the applicant within 30 days of receiving the request. The applicant has the right to appeal the decision of the Board to the Federal High Court within 14 days after receiving NEBE’s decision.

[118] Electoral Law, Article 115 (1) (d).

[119] Electoral Law, Article 115(3).

[120]  Electoral Law, Articles 2(21), 114(2).

[121] Electoral Law, Article 114(3) &117(2).

[122] Electoral Law, Articles 116 & 146(3).

[123] Electoral Law, Article 116.

[124] Electoral Law, Article 116.

[125]  Electoral Law, Article 117(1).

[126] Electoral Law, Article 118(1) and (2).

[127] Electoral Law, Article 2(22).

[128] Electoral Law, Article 2(23).

[129] Electoral Law, Article 118(1) and (2).

[130] Electoral Law, Article 122.

[131] According to Article 151 (10) of the Electoral Law, NEBE is authorized to establish an inquiry council to investigate facts, evidence, and legal issues of election complaints it receives.

[132] Electoral Law, Article 151(14) requires the establishment of election benches in federal and regional courts one month prior to the commencement of voter registration.

[133]  Electoral Law, Article 2(24).

[134] Electoral Law, Articles 152-155.

[135] Electoral Law, Article 151(5).  Members of the GHC include election officials and members of the public at each level of the electoral process. See for instance Articles 13(6) and 15(10) of the Electoral Law.

[136] Electoral Law, Articles 151(7) & (13).

[137] Electoral Law, Article 151(13).

[138]  Electoral Law, Article 151 (1-4).


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Main photo: Abiy Ahmed with, on his left, National Electoral Board of Ethiopia chairperson Birtukan Mideksa and Supreme Court President Meaza Ashenafi; 22 November 2018; Office of the Prime Minister.

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About the author

Girmachew Alemu

Girmachew is an Associate Professor at the School of Law of Addis Ababa University. He obtained his Ph.D. in Law from the University of Oslo, MPA in Public Administration from Harvard University, and LL.B. from Addis Ababa University.


  • Thank you so much for this valuable and very important document.
    I do have one question only.
    The question is,
    Do you have any tangeble information or document regarding IDPs in Ethiopia who were participated in 2021 Ethiopian National Election?
    That is why Now, I’m worrking my thesis research in IDPs participation i 2021 Ethiopian National Election.
    I need your support strongly.
    With kind regards,
    Mitiku Tadesse

  • The opposition parties have not a feasible alternative policy for us. However, currently, they are going to compute for multi-party system election without correcting the procedure of simple majority decision for a seat in a parliament of Ethiopia. So first, opposition parties will form Coalitions, Fronts, Alliances, and Movements at least a few- not more than 4 to bring a clear and practical deliberation of politics for the over all developments of our lovely Ethiopia.

  • I didn’t see the name of Gambella people’s liberation movement (GPLM) among the above listed political parties ? How was the date recorded from your data centre? Proof reading in needed before uploading or posting any documents. Thanks.

  • ለምን ትምርት ይቋረጥብናል ተመርቀን temporaryያችን ዎስደን ወደ ቤት እንመለስ አታመናቱቡን

  • It would be interesting to know if regional tenders such as for Addis Ababa City Council or main Government tenders can be awarded so close to election time – in other countries there is usually a moratorium period of 3 months prior to election day, when tenders cannot be launched or awarded. Grateful for your view on the legal position on this.

  • Thank you very much for this sir. This makes my life easier. It was also nice to see you again.

  • The Law is paper Tiger – with no real value to the people/country. The current government is just the reflection of TPLF, their creator. They need to get out of the race box to conduct free and fair election. OPDO is using TPLF’s manual by just doing search and replace – “find ‘TPLF’ and replace with ‘OPDO'”

    I do not see a light in the horizon I see more bloodshed and fragmentation of the country thanks to OPDO!!!

    When will we learn from the past? We are in the cycle of violence since 1974!

    Very SAD!!!

  • Does the professor believe that there will be election? Even with this question thank you for comprehensive overview of the legal framework.

  • Looking at the title of the piece suggests critical investigation of how actors, rules and mechanisms may influence the out come the 2021 sixth Ethiopian National and Regional election. However, the close inspection reveals that the piece is more of descriptive. Still, the piece is very important as it gives who actors, rules and mechanisms are.

  • Looking at the title I was anticipating a critical investigation into the “rules, actors, and mechanisms” only to find out that the piece is just a mere description. It’s okay for the general reader but does not tell much as to how the rules and the players may influence the outcome of the vote.

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