Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed
Ethiopia's poll body on Wednesday rejected a plan by the northern Tigray region to hold elections despite the coronavirus pandemic, as tensions mount between the region and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government.
Ethiopia was due to hold national elections in August, but the election board announced in March that they would have to be delayed because of the pandemic.
Lawmakers earlier this month then approved a plan to let Abiy stay in office beyond his current mandate which expires in October, though the decision drew strong objections from the opposition.
Some of the most vocal criticism came from the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which governs the Tigray region.
The party dominated Ethiopia's ruling coalition before Abiy came to power in 2018 but has since been sidelined and officially parted ways with him last year.
Tigrayan officials have maintained they would go ahead with regional elections in August, but the electoral board on Wednesday said they had no authority to do so.
The board "is the sole organ that decides the electoral calendar, electoral process or other related issues," it said in a statement.
"Therefore Tigray regional state has no legal basis to decide to conduct the election."
Officials in Tigray could not immediately be reached for comment.
Abiy, the winner of last year's Nobel Peace Prize who was appointed to his position in 2018, is seeking a popular mandate for wide-ranging political and economic reforms.
Lawmakers, however, have endorsed a timeline that would push elections back "nine to 12 months after the coronavirus is deemed not to be a public health concern".
Ethiopia has so far recorded just 5,034 cases of COVID-19 and 78 deaths, though the health ministry has noted in recent weeks that cases are rising rapidly because of community transmission.