The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) has announced its withdrawal from the June Ethiopian election, becoming the second major political party in the country to take such a decision.
“OLF regrettably pronounces that its participation in the upcoming general election is completely prevented,” a statement from the party said, blaming Prime Minister’s Abiy Ahmed’s Prosperity Party for the decision.
The party said the jailing of some of their leaders and the alleged closing down of their offices by the government had disrupted the party operations and accused Mr Abiy of “narrowing” the democratic space – a claim the prime minister’s party denies.
The OLF’s decision has caused a rift among top party officials.
A faction led by deputy chairman Ararso Bikila dismissed the announcement and vowed to take part in the poll.
“Much of the problem is internal, not external,” the spokesperson for the faction allied to Mr Ararso had told the British Broadcasting Corporation.
The ruling Prosperity Party also dismissed the claims, with the party spokesperson calling them “baseless”.
“We acknowledge there might be problems, but I don’t think it can be reason to pull out of the election,” Bikila Hurisa added.
The OLF, a former rebel group, is one of the oldest parties in Ethiopia.
It has a huge following in Ethiopia’s most populous Oromia region, where Mr Abiy comes from.
Last week the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), the party of popular opposition politician Jawar Mohammed, announced that it was “forced” to pull out of the election.
The June election will be a test for Mr Abiy who came to power in 2018 and led a series of popular reforms including a peace pact with Ethiopia’s former foe Eritrea – an achievement that won him the Nobel Peace Prize.
His reputation has however taken a massive hit since he launched a military offensive to remove leaders of the northern region of Tigray whom he accused of “treason”.
The destruction in Tigray, the killings of hundreds of civilians and also the displacement of thousands of others have been widely condemned around the world.