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Analysis: Disability rights activists hopeful as Electoral and Human rights commission vow to ensure community participation

Ethiopian 6th General Elections NEBE logo

By Etenesh Abera @EteneshAb

Addis Abeba March 18, 2021 – The Sixth National Election that was scheduled to take place in August 2020 was postponed indefinitely due to the outbreak of Covid-19 in the country and is now set to be held in June, 2021. According to Soliyana Shimeles , the National Electoral Board communication advisor,  “What makes this election different from previous elections, efforts are being made to help marginalized groups participate in the upcoming election. Internally Displaced People and people with disabilities will be given a special focus to boost their participation in the sixth national election.”

 The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has previously criticized the performance of regional and federal governments as well as the NEBE during the  referendum that was held on November 20, 2019 in key points, among them their performance in regard to making polling stations accessible to people with disabilities, the statement that was issued two days after the referendum on the commission’s official Facebook page highlighted that most polling stations that the commission’s observers visited were not accessible to people with disabilities while acknowledging that some had some sort of access. 

However, lawyer and disabilities rights activist Yetnebersh Niguse is hopeful, she told Addis Standard,  “This is different from the previous election that I have participated in,”. She observed there is attention being given to people with disabilities referring to the efforts being made to encourage parties to present people with disabilities as their candidates by limiting the number of the number of signatures required to collect by community members.  “The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and civil societies collaborating with the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia on this matter this election is an initiative that needs to be encouraged,” added Yetnebersh.

According to the Federal Ministry of Health, there are over 4.9 million visually impaired people in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian National Association of the Blind is one of the oldest civil organizations in the country with more than 17,000 regular members. According to Wosen Alemu, the president of the association, “Proclamations of this election were printed in braille. I hope more documents will be made accessible to the visually impaired community” Wosen shares Yetnebersh opinion about the efforts being made to accommodate people with disabilities, he said, ”The reduction in the number of signatures collected for blind candidates is a good start and should be encouraged.” 

The communication advisor to the NEBE, Soliyana Shimeles on her part explained that the board is working to make polling stations accessible to people with disabilities. “We have established a department responsible for ensuring inclusiveness at each polling station,” Soliyana citing election proclamation 1162 she continued, “The board is trying to incentivize the involvement of people with disabilities by promising more campaigning airtime for parties who enlist people with disabilities for candidacy. However, there is negligence on the part of political parties registered to contest in this election.” According to Soliyana, “The parties want us to change this requirement.” She stressed on the role that media, civil society organizations and other stakeholders can play in ensuring the inclusiveness in the upcoming elections.

When Soliyana was asked if there is a Braille voting card for the blind in the election, she pointed out budget restrictions and tightness of schedule as reasons behind their possible nonexistence but highlighted that efforts are being made to have visually impaired individuals participate in the upcoming election. She explained, “Allowing visually impaired voters to go to the ballot with the help of the person of their choosing, could be a method applied by the board.” 

In relation to the involvement of people with disabilities in the upcoming elections,  Daniel Bekele (PhD), the commissioner of the EHRC told Addis Standard, “The commission has identified that three sections of society: Women, IDPs and people with disabilities need special attention during the election.”  The commissioner continued, “Especially with regard to people with disabilities, information and polling stations should be made accessible to people with disabilities.” He explained that In addition to observing polling stations on election days, the EHRC will consult with the NEBE and provide recommendations about the issue. “The commission is working closely with the Ethiopian association of People with disabilities and the Ministry of Social and Labor Affairs to ensure the participation of people with disabilities in the upcoming election.” AS

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