PM Abiy says Ethiopia ready to hold elections in 2020

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during a session with the Members of the Parliament in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, October 22, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 22 October 2019

PM Abiy says Ethiopia ready to hold elections in 2020

  • The electoral board has the financing and capacity to conduct the polls in the country of 105 million
  • The vote would be the first under Abiy, who took office in April 2018 and began introducing political and economic reforms

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia will face problems if it delays its general election beyond the scheduled date of May next year, the prime minister said on Tuesday, recalling past political violence.
“Democracy needs exercise. If we say we cannot hold elections now, it will bring a lot of problems. We should work wholeheartedly by building public trust,” Abiy Ahmed, this year’s Nobel peace prize winner, told parliament.
The electoral board has the financing and capacity to conduct the polls in the country of 105 million.
The vote would be the first under Abiy, who took office in April 2018 and began introducing political and economic reforms.
These reforms have opened up what was once one of Africa’s most repressive nations but also stoked violence as emboldened regional strongmen build ethnic powerbases and compete over political influence and resources.
Ethiopia has regularly held elections since 1995, but with the exception of the 2005 election, no election has been competitive. In the 2005 poll, riots erupted after the opposition cried foul, security forces killed nearly 200 protesters, and the government jailed many opposition politicians.
“The people of Ethiopia have taken lessons from the conflict that happened following the 2005 general elections. Ethiopians do not want conflicts arising in connection with elections,” Abiy said.
Questioned by MPs about the future of the fractious ruling coalition — some form of which has been in power since 1991 — Abiy said he intends to merge the coalition into a single party.
One of the coalition’s four ethnic-based parties, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), rejected the idea last week. The TPLF was the most powerful force in the coalition until Abiy came to power.
Rapidly transforming the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front “may create more instability and that would exacerbate an already difficult environment for conducting a free and fair election,” said William Davison, an Ethiopia analyst at the International Crisis Group think-tank.
Asked about a dispute with Egypt over the giant hydropower dam being built on Ethiopia’s Blue Nile, Abiy said: “No force will stop Ethiopia from building the dam.”
Abiy, who won the Nobel this month for his peacemaking efforts with longtime enemy Eritrea, raised the prospect of war over the dam: “If we are going to war ... we can deploy many millions. But war is not a solution.”
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi is expected to raise the demand for a mediator over the dam when he meets Abiy during a Russia-Africa summit this week.


Over 1m Filipino overseas workers set to lose jobs

Updated 03 June 2020

Over 1m Filipino overseas workers set to lose jobs

  • OFWs in Middle East, US, Europe, and Asia to be worst hit by global economic downturn

MANILA: More than 1 million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) could be out of work by next year as the world economy continues to slump due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, analysts and officials warned on Tuesday.

“With a huge number of OFWs out of the market, this would also result in licensed recruitment and manning agencies closing shop in the coming months,” Emmanuel Geslani, a recruitment and migration expert, told Arab News.

During a virtual press briefing, Filipino Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said that 343,551 OFWs had already been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. “Either they were displaced because of COVID-19, or the virus infected them.”

He added: “Of the total number, 341,161 were displaced, which means they were either terminated (from their jobs) and no longer employed, or they could not go to work because of the lockdown, hence no work, no pay.”

Bello noted that only around 95,000 OFWs were “stranded” because almost 200,000 of the affected workers “don’t want to come home” and “would rather stay” where they are, especially those in the US and Europe.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the Philippine government has brought home an estimated 36,625 OFWs. The latest group to return to the country consisted of 175 Filipinos repatriated from Kuwait as part of an amnesty granted by the Kuwaiti government. They arrived at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Manila on Monday afternoon.

Geslani, however, said the near 100,000 OFWs waiting to be repatriated was only a fraction of the total number of migrant workers who may be displaced by December 2021, citing figures from the labor department.

On Friday, Alice Visperas, director of the Department of Labor and Employment – International Labor Affairs Bureau (DOLE-ILAB), told a virtual hearing of the house committee on overseas workers’ affairs that estimates suggested that just over 1 million Filipino workers abroad would have been displaced by December 2021.

The DOLE predicted that the number of displaced OFWs would rise from the current figure of more than 300,000 to about 600,000 by December 2020, around 800,000 by June 2021, and tipping over the 1 million mark by the end of next year.

The majority of OFWs expected to lose their jobs are employed in the Middle East, followed by Europe, the US, and Asia.

“This grim prediction by the DOLE will have a devastating effect on over 1,200 land and sea-based licensed recruitment and manning agencies with over 50 percent of the existing agencies not expected to survive the next few months,” Geslani said, pointing out that so far the deployment of OFWs had gone down by 99 percent.

“Lower-for-longer oil prices and the economic recession, even in the more successful Gulf countries, means less foreign workers in the future,” he added.

“The oil price depression will be lower for longer. The pandemic has triggered a mass lockdown of many countries in the world, especially in the Middle East where the majority of our OFWs work.”

Geslani held out little hope for workers in the foreseeable future, except for those in the health sector.

“New markets in Europe are still in lockdown and even Japan, which is our newest market, has closed its borders to 111 countries including the Philippines,” he said, adding that “the severe lack of business” would mean the closure of small- and medium-sized recruitment agencies with deployments of less than 200 a year.

Cathy Gatbunton, a Filipino house-help worker in Hong Kong, said her employment contract was due to end in July. Her employer, who was soon to relocate to Canada, had initially planned to take her with them but because of COVID-19 restrictions “that might no longer be possible.”

But Gatbunton had no plans to return to the Philippines, preferring to try and find a new employer in Hong Kong. She noted that many Filipino workers who had flown back to the Philippines, even for a vacation, were now out of work because they had been unable to return to Hong Kong due to the lockdown.

Evhan Manalac, who has worked at a US military base in Kandahar since 2011, is among about 2,000 Filipinos who will lose their jobs when US forces withdraw from Afghanistan.

“Our plan is really to go home for good next year. But it seems it will happen earlier than we have planned. Nevertheless, we are ready. We’re thinking of opening a small business in the Philippines,” Manalac said.

Marcin De Leon, an office worker employed on an engineering project in Saudi Arabia, said his job had been on hold for the past 45 days but he had now been asked to return to work.

“In some cases, some documented OFWs employed by companies that have closed down may still find employment in the Kingdom provided it is in the same field,” he added.