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Cablegate: Elections Herald 2: Slow Neb Progress; Will

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DE RUEHDS #0585/01 0631146
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 031146Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9786
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHMFISS/CJTF HOA IMMEDIATE
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE

UNCLAS ADDIS ABABA 000585

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KDEM PGOV EAID ET
SUBJECT: ELECTIONS HERALD 2: SLOW NEB PROGRESS; WILL
"FOREGO" CERTAIN ELECTION LAW PROVISIONS

REF: ADDIS 261

SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) In a February 14 meeting with Ambassador, National
Electoral Board (NEB) Chairman Dr. Merga and Vice Chairman
Dr. Adissu commented on the positive progress that the NEB
has made since being appointed. While the NEB has made
positive progress toward implementing the April 13 and 20
local elections, it has made minimal progress or efforts
toward establishing procedures and regulations for the
conduct of these elections in a transparent and open manner.
Lack of capacity, time, and resources, as well as the
apparent heavy-handed steps by the ruling party make these
local elections a lost cause and will force the donor
community to work hard to ensure that the 2010 national
elections do not end in voter frustration and violence. End
Summary.

POSITIVE PROGRESS...
--------------------

2. (SBU) Upon opening the meeting, Dr. Merga reported to
Ambassador that the NEB had established permanent offices in
each of Ethiopia's regions, as well as temporary offices
throughout the country in order to proceed with the April
elections. Dr. Merga boasted that the NEB had registered
over 26 million voters for the 2008 local elections -- a
figure greater than the number of voters registered for the
2005 national elections. Among these are over 1.117 million
registered voters in Addis Ababa city. The NEB reported that
it had already issued licenses for organizations to conduct
civic and voter education as well. Dr. Adissu went on to
boast that the NEB had also successfully put in place most
public election observers. The Electoral Law of 2007 states
that each polling station shall have five election observers
elected from non-partisan members of their respective
communities. With over 42,000 polling stations, the NEB had
successfully put in place roughly 200,000 local election
observers.

3. (SBU) Despite this progress, the NEB members lamented
opposition parties' tendency to complain to donor embassies
about the electoral playing field while telling the NEB that
there are no problems. Dr. Adissu specifically complained
about what the NEB sees as the international community's
propensity to believe allegations by opposition parties
without independently verifying circumstances. PolChief
agreed that verification of allegations is key to the
credibility of the coming elections, but cited the NEB's
directive to its own regional offices not to meet with
foreign diplomats without prior consent from the NEB in
writing as an impediment to our ability to conduct such
verification. PolChief specifically cited an instance in
early-February in which PolOff and PolSpecialist were turned
away from pre-scheduled and pre-confirmed meetings with NEB
offices in the Southern Nations region (SNNPR) -- meetings
which were facilitated by the NEB Executive Director -- due
to the absence of such a letter of permission. In light of
this, Ambassador took advantage of the meeting to request the
NEB's permission to meet with NEB offices during a February
25-27 trip to Western Oromiya.

...BUT SOME THINGS HAVE TO BE "FOREGONE"
----------------------------------------

4. (SBU) PolChief requested clarification from the NEB on the
Board's interpretation of the term "election process" as it
pertains to the rights of election monitors as detailed in
Article 80 of the Electoral Law. Article 80 notes that "a
representative of an organizations who is issued with an
election observation license has the right to monitor the
election process and request and obtain appropriate
information." Reacting defensively, Dr. Adissu quickly
rejected that the law referred to "monitoring." NEB Chair
Dr. Merga began to note that the "election process" referred
to all activities on election day up to the final tallying of
votes, only to be cut off by Executive Director Tesfaye
Mengesha who clarified that the "election process" referred
to all election related events beginning with the initial
registration of voters through the results complaints review
process.


5. (SBU) PolChief asked rhetorically whether the NEB was
subjecting the local elections to questions of credibility
since the voter and candidate registration periods were
almost complete and campaigning set to begin while the NEB
had yet to even establish the regulations under which
interested domestic election observer organizations could
express interest, much less receive licenses. Dr. Merga
explained that as a relatively new NEB operating under a
relatively new electoral law, it had to produce many
directives and regulations required to implement the
provisions captured within the Electoral Law. As such, Dr.
Merga explained, the possibility of domestic election
observers monitoring the election process was "one of many
things that Ethiopia would have to forego for this election."

COMMENT
-------

6. (SBU) The NEB certainly faces an up-hill challenge in
implementing the provisions of the new Electoral Law and
conducting the already delayed local elections as a result of
the lack of time to establish operations, capacity problems,
and resource limitations. The NEB is also not an independent
player, with the opposition (rightly) complaining about its
close linkage to the ruling party. It will take time,
working closely with the NEB and GoE to establish a strong
independent institution capable of conducting transparent and
open elections. Post will report septel on PolOff's election
playing field assessment to SNNPR and Ambassador's visit to
Western Oromiya. The NEB did not deny the Ambassador access
to any NEB office or meetings during the visit to Oromiya, an
opposition stronghold. With only eight weeks left before the
local elections, however, it is painfully clear that the
local elections are a major step backward from the historic
openness of the 2005 national elections. The inability of
the opposition to register all of its candidates, especially
in opposition strongholds like Oromiya, and persistent
reports of harassment against opposition candidates and
supporters makes it a certainty that the ruling party will
dominate these elections. It will be important for the donor
community to work closely with the GoE to ensure that the
2010 national elections do not go the way of these local
elections, otherwise the chance for violence and active voter
opposition to the government could be more severe than the
post-election violence of 2005. End comment.
YAMAMOTO

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