June 10, 2019 / 1:21 PM / 7 days ago

Ethiopia delays census again despite looming election

FILE PHOTO: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, arrives to mediate in the political crisis that has followed after the overthrow of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, at the airport in Khartoum, Sudan June 7, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia’s parliament postponed a national census for a second time on Monday, citing security concerns but potentially undermining logistics for the first election under reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Ethiopia is due to hold a national vote some time next year, and the census - already postponed once from 2017 - is a crucial step towards demarcating constituencies.

But parliamentarians in both houses voted overwhelmingly to delay the census again by a year, due to an upsurge in ethnic conflicts that has forced 2.4 million Ethiopians out of their homes, according to United Nations figures.

“Our people are still displaced in many parts of the country,” lawmaker Tesfaye Daba said during a parliamentary debate. “Having this situation, I don’t think it wise to conduct the census this year.”

William Davison, an analyst at the International Crisis Group, said the decision would disrupt election logistics.

“Preparations for those polls are also behind schedule ... this is therefore perhaps another indication that elections will be pushed back,” he said.

The next vote will test Abiy’s reformist agenda that has included ending hostilities with Eritrea, opening the economy to foreign investment, and freeing political prisoners.

Parliament also postponed to Thursday debate on a proposed law to liberalise the telecoms sector.

(This story corrects paragraph 4 to say lawmaker Tesfaye Daba spoke during a debate, not to Reuters)

Reporting by Dawit Endeshaw; Writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

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