A referendum in the south of Ethiopia is being seen as a test of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's abilities to control the forces of ethnic nationalism, which have threatened to increase divisions within the country.

Long queues of people were made as they voted calmly on Wednesday morning, to have Sidama as the regional state within Ethiopia’s federal system.

Wednesday was declared a holiday for the referendum with heavily armed police and soldiers patrolling the streets.

The voting took place to see if tensions around ethnic separatism could be resolved peacefully.

In the past few months, clashes in different parts of Ethiopia have forced about 3 million people from their homes.

The referendum on creating a new region is a constitutional process that hopes to help satisfy ethnic ambitions as every ethnic group has the right to demand for their own regional state.

Delays in the voting day triggered violence in which at least 25 people died.

Presently, Ethiopia is partitioned into nine semi-autonomous regional states; Tigray, Afar, Amhara, Harari, Benishangul- Gumuz, Somali, Oromia, Gambela and Southern Nations, Nationalities& People’s Region (SNNPR), with the Sidama voting for a potential tenth.

Sidama being the fifth largest ethnic group, which was part of SNNPR, felt they deserved greater political power and recognition.

With a new federal state, the Sidama would make their own policies, control regional police force, and be in charge of a budget spent on the priorities of Sidama people.

It would also have greater linguistic and cultural recognition.

Creation of the new regional state would, however, make other ethnic groups yearn for their own states thus challenging the government to deal fairly with all demands without encouraging further tension or risking divisions within Ethiopia.

The preliminary results are expected to be out on Thursday.