Ethiopia's National Election Board (NEB) was criticised by a local watchdog on Monday for barring thousands of domestic observers from monitoring the country's parliamentary elections in May.
Netsanet Demissie, director of the Organisation for Social Justice (OSJ) - an umbrella group of 35 Ethiopian organisations - said new rules imposed by the board would exclude at least two-thirds of their planned observation team.
"This is going to have a very negative impact," Netsanet, whose body was hoping to field around 3,000 observers for Ethiopia's third-ever democratic ballot, told a news conference. "This is definitely a setback for holding free and fair elections."
Under new rules, local organisations wanting to monitor elections must meet two criteria: they must have registered with the government as election observers when they were originally founded, and they must also prove that they are independent.
Netsanet said only a handful of groups hoping to monitor the elections would have originally registered as observers because the idea was a new phenomenon in Ethiopia.