1157 GMT July 24, 2021
It is the first electoral test for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, 44, who came to power in 2018 championing a democratic revival in Africa's second-most populous country, and a break from its authoritarian past, AFP reported.
"This election is different," said Milyon Gebregziabher, a 45-year-old travel agent voting in the centre of the capital Addis Ababa. "There are a number of parties to choose from. In the past there was just one, we did not have the luxury of choice."
Abiy, a Nobel Peace laureate who freed political prisoners, welcomed back exiles and ended a cold war with neighbouring Eritrea before sending troops to confront the dissident leadership of Tigray late last year, has promised this election will be Ethiopia's most competitive in history, free of the repression that marred previous ballots.
But the spectre of famine caused by the ongoing fighting in Tigray, and the failure to stage elections on schedule in around one-fifth of constituencies, means that promise is in doubt.
"I believe this election will shine a light of democracy on Ethiopia," said Yordanos Berhanu, a 26-year-old accountant at the head of a queue of hundreds.
"As a young Ethiopian, I (have) hope for the future of my country, and believe voting is part of that," she said before slipping her ballot papers into a purple plastic box for the national vote and a light green one for the regional election.
In Bahir Dar, capital of the northwestern Amhara region which neighbours Tigray, voters said peace and economic growth were the priorities.
Once votes are counted, national MPs will elect the prime minister, who is head of government, as well as the president – a largely ceremonial role.
Abiy's ruling Prosperity Party has fielded the most candidates for national parliamentary races, and is the firm favourite to win a majority and form the next government, tasked with bringing peace to Tigray and rebuilding an economy hammered by the coronavirus pandemic.
At a polling station in Addis Ababa, opposition leader and former political prisoner Berhanu Nega of the Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice Party was cautiously optimistic that the vote would be democratic, as billed.
"I don't know if signs that an election is free and fair can be measured by this," he said, referring to his own involvement, "but participation looks good, so let's hope it ends clean."
The election was twice delayed – once for the pandemic, and again to allow more time to organise the ballot across a huge nation.
Some 38 million Ethiopians are registered but polls are not going ahead in close to one-fifth of the country's 547 constituencies with some areas deemed too insecure – plagued by armed insurgencies and ethnic violence – while in others logistical setbacks made arranging a vote in time impossible.
A second batch of voting is to take place on September 6 to accommodate many of the districts not taking part Monday.